By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “New licensing rule to raise standards of cleaning firms” (Straits Times, Mar 13).
Licensing of cleaning firms?
It states that “general cleaners in offices or food and beverage establishments must earn at least $1,000 a month.”
So many schemes to raise cleaners’ pay?
The issue of declining pay for cleaners and other low-pay jobs has been going on for many years.
So many initiatives, schemes and programmes have been implemented over the years to address this problem till the point that the public have lost count.
Some of the schemes announced in the past were:-
“Full-time cleaners now earn about $1,000 a month on average, compared to about $750 before the (Town Councils’ cleaners’) scheme was launched in 2008” (“Cleaners’ pay up $250 to $1,000: Congratulations?“)
“Progressive wage concept initiative to raise the wages of cleaners” (“Measure wage targets in hourly pay, not gross total“, Jun 20)
“Unprecedented move by a group of officials from unions, cleaning companies and the Government would raise the pay of cleaners by 23 per cent” (Oct 19)
“Contracts would only be awarded to cleaning companies awarded the Clean Mark Accreditation” (“Parliament: Replies that never answer the question?“, Nov 14)
“The National Trades Union Congress ( NTUC) has set a target to raise 10,000 cleaners’ monthly salary to at least $1,000 by 2015″ (“NTUC: Wages need to account for standard of living?“, Dec 20)
Mr Tan, the cleaner
Now that yet another scheme has been announced, I thought we could try to take a journey back in time and imagine that we have a cleaner named Mr Tan.
Mr Tan earned $1,277 in 2000, as the median gross wage of cleaners and labourers then was $1,277.
His pay had declined over the last 12 years or so, to just $815 in 2012. (“New proposed cleaners’ pay starts from $1,000“, Straits Times, Oct 19)
39% drop in pay after 12 years?
When he heard about the latest licensing of cleaning firms to increase cleaners’ pay to at least $1,000, he sighed. Because even when his pay is increased to $1,000, after adjusting for inflation of about 29.1 per cent in the last 12 years, in real terms, his pay of $1,000 would be about 39 per cent less than what he earned in 2000.
51,000 local cleaners?
So, how many Singaporeans are there like Mr Tan – “About 51,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) are cleaners, as are 17,400 foreigners”.
Nobody wants to work as a cleaner?
So, does this statistic not put to rest the repeated rhetoric that we have been told over the years that Singaporeans don’t want to work as cleaners?
He could not understand why invariably, whenever the foreign workers’ levy was increased, presumably to encourage employers to employ Singaporeans like him, the employers reduced the wages of foreign workers which also led to a reduction in his pay. (“cleaners that used to earn about $800 a month a few years ago, now only earn about $650″, BlogTV, Aug 25, 2009)
As one gets older, earnings tend to decline?
According to the Ministry of Manpower, in 2007 (“Unanswered questions about CPF changes“, Aug 24 2007, theonlinecitizen), for workers aged 55 and above, 18,600 earn gross monthly income of under $500, 64,000 earn less than $1,000, and 46,400 earn below $1,500. This means that 42 per cent of elderly workers earn less than $1,000 then.
The statistics indicate that the older one gets, the larger is the proportion who earn less. For example, those earning less than $500 and $1,000, jumped from 8,600 and 36,600 to 18,600 and 64,000, respectively, from age 50-54 to age 55 and above.
This means that those who crossed from age 50-54 to age 55 and above, who earned less than $500 and $1,000, increased by 116 and 75 per cent respectively.
Why is it that it would appear that as one gets older, earnings tend to decline?
How long has this trend been persistent, and has it continued to today?
How many older workers in menial jobs?
The proportion of older workers who are in menial jobs is quite high. 54,300 age 55 and above workers were cleaners, labourers and related workers, and 35,600 were plant and machine operators and assemblers. About 49 per cent of workers aged 65 and older were cleaners, labourers and production line operators.
How much longer must low-wage workers like Mr Tan have to wait before they get a decent pay?
So many low-wage workers?
How many low-wage workers are there like Mr Tan? – “about 12 per cent of residents, or 238,000 workers, earn less than $1,000 a month for full-time and part-time work. And 6.4 per cent of full-time resident workers, or 114,100, earn less than $1,000″.