By Lee U-Wen
AN ambitious plan launched three years ago to upgrade the skills and boost the wages of some 3,000 cleaners deployed at public housing estates has borne much fruit since then.
Cleaners who used to take home an average of just $750 a month - often without any paid or medical leave or even rest days - now earn a monthly pay of $1,000. They are also more equipped to do the job, having gone through numerous training courses to boost their productivity.
The 20 conservancy contractors that currently serve all 14 People's Action Party (PAP) town councils in Singapore have also adopted the recommended wage of $1,000 a month for all trained cleaners.
The way that such cleaning contracts were tendered was also tweaked. Instead of the previous contracts which were based on providing a specific number of cleaners to each estate, the performance of the cleaners and the quality of the estates are now the main criteria in evaluating the companies involved.
The man who spearheaded this job re-creation effort back in 2009 said that cleaners are not only more driven and motivated in their work, they are also proud and confident of what they do.
'We gave the companies a longer, three-year contract and we now monitor and evaluate their performance on a daily basis. Everything is recorded in a central database. The contractors know we mean business,' said PAP Town Councils coordinating chairman Teo Ho Pin, in an interview with BT yesterday.
Today, equal weightage is given to the price and the quality of the cleaning service provided, both when awarding new contracts and renewing existing ones.
'We have improved the cleaning standards of public estates as well as the skills of the cleaners themselves,' said Dr Teo, who is also the mayor of Singapore's North West District.
As part of the joint effort, the town councils worked together with different parties such as the NTUC, the Employment and Employability Institute, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Unit for Contract & Casual Workers.
There are about 3,000 cleaners deployed across the 14 town councils, of which 70 per cent are Singaporeans and permanent residents.
Next on Dr Teo's agenda is to roll out a similar job re-creation programme for the horticultural sector, with plans to train more Singaporeans to take up jobs such as gardeners and grasscutters.
There are fewer Singaporeans willing to take on these jobs so Dr Teo is working with the town councils to identify specific areas that might appeal to them.
'We need to make these jobs more attractive. The horticultural sector is also different because we cannot attract many younger workers, so we have to look at those in their 40s, 50s and 60s,' said Dr Teo.
This article was first published in The Business Times.