Cleaners' pay up $250 to $1,000: Congratulations?

~by: Leong Sze Hian~

I refer to the article “Town council cleaners get more pay now” (Straits Times, Feb 21).

It states that ”North West District Mayor Teo Ho Pin, who spearheaded and coordinated the initiative, said on Monday that full-time cleaners now earn about $1,000 a month on average, compared to about $750 before the scheme was launched in 2008”.

Wages fell from $1,277 to $750?

According to the article “Mindset change needed to help low-wage workers” (Straits Times, Feb 7), in 2000, the median gross wage for cleaners and labourers was $1,277. By 2010, it fell to $960. For cleaners of industrial buildings, the median gross wage is even lower, at around $600 in 2010.

Real wage fell 38% in 10 years?

After accounting for inflation for the last decade or so, I estimate that in year 2000 dollars, the average $1,000 pay of town council cleaners is equivalent to only about $787 in 2000 dollars. So, what this may mean is that the real pay of cleaners has declined by about 38 per cent in the last 10 years or so.

Well done – town councils?

Hence, instead of giving ourselves a pat on the back that we managed to increase the average pay of cleaners from $750 three years ago to $1,000 now, we should be taking urgent action to address the problem of declining wages for lower-income workers in Singapore.

Actually, I think the statistics given by the town councils may not be the whole story.

What is the proportion of town council cleaners that are Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners?

What is the proportion of part-time cleaners that are Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners?

What is the monthly pay of a part-time cleaner?

1 cleaner's plight

In this connection, I spoke to a cleaner whom I know, who was retrenched by a coffee shop where she had worked for many years.

She is 60-plus years old and now works 15 hours a day, with only one day off every two weeks, in a hawker centre, for a pay of $1,100+. She gets no annual bonus, medical benefits, etc.

Calculated at an hourly basis, she is getting less than $4 per hour.

How many Singaporeans are there who work for such miserly wages like her?

Well, according to the Straits Times article cited above, “Government figures released last week show that there were 236,300 Singaporeans and residents who earned a gross income of less than $1,000 per month as of June last year, up from 218,700 a decade earlier. The figure excludes incomes of full-time national servicemen.

If you take household, not personal income figures, the picture does not get rosier. In 2010, there were more than 100,000 households with an average monthly income from work of $1,400.

The latest available expenditure figures, covering 2007/2008, show that Singaporean households in the bottom fifth of the income scale needed around $1,700 a month to cover basic costs of living like food and utilities. But they earned an average of only $1,274 per month at that time.

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