Town councils' wage rise 'sends right signal on pay'

While town council cleaners will be getting a pay hike this month, cleaning companies do not expect it to have a big knock-on effect on raising standards of paying cleaners across the industry.

This is because the move benefits only a small fraction of local cleaners, they say, and some are already paid more than the $1,200 per month that town council cleaners will be getting.

Still, the move will have a "signalling effect on what the minimum pay of cleaners should be", said Mr Woon Chiap Chan, the country managing director of ISS Facility Services, one of Singapore's largest cleaning firms with over 6,000 cleaners.

"Like government agencies, town councils have to set the right example and not give the impression that it is a cheap buyer of cleaning services," he said.

On Sunday, the 15 People's Action Party-run town councils announced that their 2,500 local cleaners are getting a $200 pay rise, as part of efforts to boost salaries of low-wage workers here.

But cleaning companies say that clearing rubbish and sweeping Housing Board flats and carparks are not cleaning jobs that are sought after in the first place. There are some 46,000 Singaporeans working as cleaners, and only 2,500 of them clean HDB estates.

"It is not a big sector," said Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore that represents cleaning companies.

Cleaning firms point to various reasons why Singaporeans shun town council cleaning jobs.

"They work outdoors and sometimes under the rain and sun, picking up litter and they face the public," said Mr Lim Chin Boon, managing director of Clean Solutions. The company has cleaning contracts with East Coast and Tanjong Pagar town councils.

Other cleaning firms said the labour crunch has already pushed up cleaners' pay. The latest move is merely catching up to what contractors have to pay to hire locals.

"Monthly pay of $1,200, $1,300 for cleaners, it is quite normal now. Hotel cleaners are already paid that," said Madam Teresa Kow, director of cleaning company Allied System Services.

The latest Manpower Ministry data showed that the median gross monthly pay of office cleaners last year was $850, up from $815 in 2011. The ministry does not release separate data for town council cleaners.

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