The Online Citizen

Who is ultimately responsible for cleaners’ slave wages? Never ever accountable?

June 28
07:51 2013

By Leong Sze Hian


Cleaners go back to school?

I refer to the articles “Older cleaners give back-to-school programme a tick – Scheme is part of efforts to upgrade the skills of low-wage workers” (Straits Times, Jun 13) and “Cleaners see no threat to their jobs – Anti-tray-return petition” (My Paper, Jun 13).

The former states that “Since May last year, more than 1,200 (there are 69,000 local workers!) have been receiving English lessons under the Skills Upgrading Initiative for Low Wage Workers, a joint project set up by NTUC LearningHub and the Ministry of Education.

The 10-day course includes a two-day preparatory lesson and six days of basic English literacy classes, with the rest made up of vocation-related skills training.

Most of the students have little formal education and are aged between 55 and 75. Almost all of them have never taken an English class before and they typically earn about $1,200 a month from working a 40-hour work week (cleaners’ median wage  was only over $815?)

NTUC LearningHub has been running courses for white- and blue-collar workers for nearly a decade but this is the first time it has organised classes for low-wage workers in the same profession.

Cleaner job has career prospects?

Some think that being a cleaner is a job with few career prospects and low skill levels (this one in the running for best understatement of the century!). But Mr Kwek Kok Kwong, chief executive of NTUC LearningHub, said: “We believe in helping to strengthen our Singapore core of workers, regardless of age and educational background”.

May God help other low-wage workers?

LearningHub is considering extending the course to other low-wage earners like canteen operators and security officers.”

Train & train – got pay increase?

Since the above very long news article made no mention of the obvious question – after the training – the cleaners’ pay got go up or not? – I spoke to a few cleaners and they all said that they did not receive any pay increase after the training.

Follow the money trail?

As I understand that hawkers pay rent to public agencies and some hawker centres also pay cleaning fees to public agencies who in turn engage cleaning firms – aren’t some public agencies the primary reason why cleaners continue to be paid declining real wage growth of about minus 40 % over the last 12 years or so. The median wage for cleaners last year was only over $800!

We keep hearing the same old excuses that cleaning firms have signed fixed term contracts with fixed fees, and therefore it may be hard for them to raise wages.

Last year, about 7 out of 10 low-wage workers did not get the $50 pay increase recommended by the NWC for workers earning less than $1,000.

Can we have a detailed accounting of how much fees and rents are collected by public agencies from hawker centres in a year – how much of it is paid to third parties like cleaning companies, and at the end of the day how much of the total sum collected are paid as wages to cleaners?

In other words, how much money in total do public agencies make from hawker centres, and therefore indirectly literally “sucking blood” (pardon my language, but I and many Singaporeans are angry at the incompetency, arrogance, complacency and heartlessness) from so many generally elderly cleaners?

Clean and clear transparency and accountability please?

As the saying goes – the buck stops here!

Well, I say lets’ cut the crab once and for all, and figure out who’s primarily responsible and arguably, should be accountable for the plight of more than 60,000 low-wage local cleaners (Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).

Oh no, not another campaign, initiative?

Enough is enough – I care for cleaners’ campaign, progressive wage concept, accreditation of cleaning firms, town councils’ cleaners’ scheme, productivity enhancement, the latest news being cleaners have to go for training, classes and skills upgrading – but still cleaners’ wages never go up!