Only 70 cleaning firms have applied for mandatory licences under a new regulatory scheme that kicked in earlier this month , but the authorities said they are not concerned, yet.
While the sign-ups make up less than 10 per cent of the estimated 900 registered cleaning companies here, officials believe it is still early days.
"It has only been a month since the new scheme was introduced. We need to give industry players time. More applications will come in," said National Environment Agency (NEA) deputy chief executive Khoo Seow Poh yesterday.
Senior unionist Zainal Sapari agreed. The National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary- general said the number of firms is likely to fall because some cannot meet the requirements.
"The number of firms may shrink in the coming few months. Some may merge or exit the business because of the new rules," said Mr Zainal, who is also MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
The companies have until Sept 1 to comply. After that, those without licences will not be allowed to operate.
A key requirement of the new scheme is that firms use a "progressive wage model" to pay their workers.
The model sets a wage ladder, where workers in low-wage jobs can earn higher pay through training.
Firms also need to send at least half of their staff for training under the new scheme.
This training criterion is a major bugbear, said employers. Many bosses complained that it is hard to fulfil, as many upgrading courses are fully booked.
They also do not have extra manpower to free up workers for training.
Mr Khoo said the NEA has heard the feedback and is working with national training body Singapore Workforce Development Agency to ensure sufficient training places.
Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, which represents cleaning firms, said companies should not use the lack of manpower as an excuse. "Firms have to find a way to get their workers trained, as it is the key way to raise wages - 50 per cent is a fair target," he said.
Under the wage ladder, Singaporeans and permanent residents working as cleaners will get at least $1,000 each month.
Now, they receive about $850.
Those who handle cleaning machines and supervisors will receive at least $1,400 and $1,600 respectively, up from the current $1,000 and $1,500.
This article was published on April 26 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.