TL;DR – Are we doing enough for this group of ‘essential’ workers?
The vulnerability of cleaners in Singapore came under the spotlight in recent weeks after some of them were found to have contracted COVID-19.
The first case was an 88-year-old Singaporean man who works at Changi Airport Terminal 3 as a cleaner. Subsequently, another cleaner was reported to have been infected with the disease while he was working at Park Avenue Rochester – a stay-home notice dedicated facility.
There is also an active COVID-19 cluster involving six cleaners from Hong Ye Group, while a 76-year-old Singaporean man employed by Clean Solutions as a cleaner at Henry Park Primary School was also found to have contracted the COVID-19.
While cleaning companies have since stepped up their games in keeping their cleaning employees safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these cleaners who are out there on the frontline remain to be the ones with higher exposure to the virus.
The Covid-19 pandemic has, too, triggered rapid changes in the cleaning industry, as the demand for cleaners and better cleaning services increases. On top of their regular cleaning work, the cleaners are now also expected to be able to perform pandemic disinfection procedures.
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This then brings us to the question:
Shouldn’t the cleaners deserve more then?
Many years ago, cleaners used to be one of the lowest-paid jobs in Singapore.
Under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) – which was mooted by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) in 2012 – this skill and productivity-based approach that sets out the skills workers must attain to qualify for higher wages has enabled cleaners to earn better wages since it became mandatory in the cleaning industry in 2015.
In 2018, the Government accepted recommendations by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) – comprising of representatives from the NTUC, employers, service buyers and government – which laid out the terms for mandatory bonuses cleaning companies must pay their resident workers starting from 2020.
This annual bonus for cleaners was first mooted in 2016.
In addition to the PWM Bonus, the TCC has also successfully pushed for all PWM basic wage levels to receive a 3% year-on-year wage increase from 1 July 2020 to 2022.
Is this enough? Nope, definitely not.
More should, and can be done for the cleaners
During the Budget Debate earlier this year, labour MP Fahmi Aliman called for the wages in sectors covered by the PWM to be raised consequently as COVID-19 has highlighted the value of workers like cleaners and security officers.
“These everyday heroes stepped up despite the risks to their health and took on extra duties such as the additional sanitisation of high-touched surfaces and temperature screening so that we can safely continue with our lives.”
If we think that essential workers such as cleaners are so important to us, and that they deserve more, then what’s stopping us from giving them what they truly deserve?