Include Migrant Cleaners in Progressive Wage Model
This letter was submitted to TODAY (Voices) and published on 21 December 2016.
The tripartite effort to increase cleaners’ wages is laudable and necessary. It will benefit around 40,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents, who have seen their low wages stagnate ('Cleaners to get higher basic pay, annual bonus'; Dec 13).
This move to improve local cleaners’ pay and thereby attract and retain staff must, however, confront the reality that Singapore’s cleaning workforce is diverse and includes migrant workers. Our public housing estates are maintained, for example, by Bangladeshi conservancy workers paid basic salaries of S$450 to S$600 a month.
They work at least 12 hours a day, without rest days, and pay recruitment fees of S$10,000, often more, for their jobs here.
They tend to be assigned the more strenuous tasks, such as clearing rubbish chutes, and often work longer hours. Their exclusion, as foreigners, from the Progressive Wage Model has troubling implications.
The reluctance to mandate salary increases for migrant cleaners potentially undermines the model’s key objectives: to deal with depressed wages and poor employment conditions in the sector and to raise the status of the cleaning profession.
Also, their exclusion normalises pay inequalities, despite equal pay for equal work being a key and universally recognised labour rights principle.
In the longer term, an entrenchment of pay inequality within the sector will create barriers to responsible sourcing.
Boosting cleaners’ wages is a move we all applaud as both a practical measure to attract more workers and a moral obligation to care for vulnerable, low-wage workers.
This obligation, however, must extend itself to migrant cleaners, who contribute to the difficult and often underappreciated work of ensuring that our city remains clean and pristine. Conservancy work is, at present, stigmatised.
Raising wages and improving employment conditions are a must, but such measures will be effective in the long term only if they are inclusive and reward workers without discrimination. This appeal should not be reduced to a local-versus-foreigner issue.
It is a recommended policy orientation that seeks to correct inequalities in the labour market so that all marginalised workers, including local cleaners, will experience concrete, systemic improvements to their employment realities.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics