3 Cleaners’ stories in 1 day: What I didn’t say at Hong Lim?

By Leong Sze Hian

Leong Sze Hian speaking on stage at #Freemyinternet protest

After speaking at the #FreeMyInternet event on Saturday (8 June) at Hong Lim someone asked me if I had any regrets – I wasn’t quite sure what she was asking – anyway I was dead tired and had to rush off.

While I was in the MRT, the thought of “any regrets” came to my mind (when you are in the MRT the mind wanders because you can relax – maybe that’s why I failed my Highway Code and so cannot drive, even if I can’t afford to!).

Well, if have to pick one regret – I had planned to speak about the plight of cleaners, but as usual I ran out of time (despite being given 5 minutes more because I was the last speaker – 15 minutes instead of the 10 minutes given to the other 11 speakers).

I prayed before I slept on Saturday night for the lives of  cleaners to get better.

When I woke up this morning (Tuesday 11 Jun) at 7 am to go to do my bi-weekly (the volunteers take turns) financial counselling for bankrupts which we have been doing for about 7 years – my prayer was kind of answered – there were 3 stories about cleaners in 1 newspaper.

Today, I shall be writing in a different style from my usual rumblings – I shall be writing as if I am speaking at speakers’ corner (so, allow me to apologise in advance if I may sound a bit aggressive).

Before I start shouting – let me label the 3 stories in the newspaper (for easy reference in my speech below) as

Story 1 –  ”NTUC wants cleaning firms to follow wage guide” (Straits Times, Jun 11)

Story 2 – “Cut number of cleaners’ to keep Singapore clean”

Story 3 – “Firms show appreciation for cleaners this month”

What I would have said at speakers’ corner if I had the time:

We now have yet another scheme to help cleaners get at least $1,000 pay a month(reference: story 1)

It is now proposed that all cleaning companies be licensed from next year

Cleaning companies must follow national wage guidelines before they can get a licence

How many more schemes must we have – and there have been so many in recent years – progressive wage model, cleaning companies accreditation scheme, town councils’ cleaners’ scheme – just to name a few

But despite all these – what do we have now – the median wage of local cleaners is only $815!

Even when all the 69,000 local cleaners get at least $1,000

In real terms, their $1,000 pay would be more than a 40% pay cut from their median pay of $1,277 in 2000

In this connection, the labour chief said “that tying licensing to wage guidelines will help cleaners’ pay keep pace with inflation”

Keep pace with inflation – when the target of $1,000 is more than 40% pay cut in real terms compared to 2000 – 12 years ago?

He also said “our commitment to you is that your wages will continue to move up” – “he told about 60 cleaning staff at the launch of the NTUC’s I Care for My Cleaners campaign”

Oh my god – can you stand this kind of “crocodile tears” remarks

Last year, only 3 in 10 companies heeded the NWC recommendation to give at least $50 – to those workers who earn less than $1,000

A miserable $50 increase to people earning less than $1,000 – yet only 3 in 10 companies give

Sad very very sad

If you think this is sad, wait till you hear this – “NTUC’s plans are subject to us convincing our tripartite partners’”!

Good luck to you, if you are a cleaner – thanks to the labour movement

More than 100 organisations will honour over 5,000 cleaners in the labour movement’s I care for My Cleaners campaign

But you know what – no amount of free carnivals, free buffet lunches, goodie bags , trip to the Singapore Flyer (which may be closing down soon) (reference: story 3) – will distract us from the stark reality that the labour movement has done a damn lousy job of fighting for the rights of workers – particularly low-wage workers to get a decent wage – even a miserable $1,000 also so difficult after so many years!

So what if all 69,000 local cleaners get the targeted $1,000 pay – what about the other 45,000 workers who earn less than $1,000 as according to the Ministry of Manpower’s statistics – there are 114,000 local workers working full-time for less than $1,000

The head of the Keep Singapore Clean Movement (reference: story 2) said “In hawker centres we eat like pigs, with food and tissue all over the tables. It’s a disgrace. We don’t eat like that at home” – You know what I think is the really real big disgrace – that so many cleaners get paid so little for so long, so many years!

And the motto is U Care some more?

“How many years must cleaners work like slaves?

Before they can get a decent pay

How many years must cleaners work as slaves?

Before they can get $1,000 pay

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind”

Uniquely Singapore!

Aiyah Ini Macham!