It’s hard to imagine working in the same company for more than five years, let alone 10. But Mdm Chan, 57, tells me that she has been working as a cleaner at an audit firm for 12 whooping years.
“What made you stay on for so long?” I was curious. You see, most of the people around me can barely stay with the same employer for half that time. “Well, the people are nice!” she said with a laugh. Her cheeriness is infectious.
Mdm Chan was once headhunted by a shady “cleaning company”
Mdm Chan shared that she has had other job offers over the years. The most recent one was from a shady cleaning company which tried to shortchange her.
In case you didn’t know, it’s a common practice amongst most companies and organisations to outsource services like security and cleaning to a third-party service provider while they focus on their core areas of business. Service providers bid for the service contracts from these service buyers every year.
However, the problem with such procurement practice is that service providers, in a bid to win the new contract, will tend to lower their bidding prices or risk losing the contract to their competitors.
Such practice, which Chairman of the TCC and NTUC assistant director-general Zainal Sapari condemns, calling it “cheap-sourcing”, has resulted in wages of workers being depressed because each time these workers are hired by a new employer, their salaries are reduced and annual leave reset back to seven days.
“That company tried to offer me with a basic pay of $700 last year,” Mdm Chan recalls.
“After I told them my current pay and the PWM bonus, they counteroffered me with $900, citing that that’s the best they could offer me. Without bonus some more! I think they were trying to cheat me so that they can pay me as low as possible.”
“I told them to go look under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website and check the minimum pay employers are supposed to pay,” she continued.
Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for cleaning sector
Thankfully, Mdm Chan was discerning enough to know that with the PWM in place for the cleaning sector, there is a minimum salary that employers are mandated to pay their employees. But can you imagine what would happen to the rest of the vulnerable workers who may not be as sharp as Mdm Chan? They would be easily shortchanged!
First introduced in 2012 under then NTUC labour chief Lim Swee Say, the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is a system later accepted by the government to lift the wages of low-income earners and was first made mandatory for the cleaning sector in 2015.
Before the PWM was introduced, Mdm Chan’s basic pay a month was only $800. But with PWM, Mdm Chan’s basic pay has risen gradually over the years and is now at $1,236.
Furthermore, the base pay of cleaners is also slated for a 3 percent year-on-year wage increase come 1 July 2023 after proposals put forth by a tripartite committee on the cleaning wage ladder were accepted by the Government in June this year.
Treating Mdm Chan as one of their own
Even though Mdm Chan is a contract worker “outsourced” to the audit firm, the mother of two tells me delightfully that she feels valued and appreciated by the employees of the firm.
“Some of them are rather dependent on me. Sometimes they will tell me things like: “Aunty, don’t fall sick leh, don’t go on leave ah. We cannot do without you!” They would even come to me for my opinion on the things to buy to furnish our new pantry. All really very nice to me lah,” she says.
Beaming with pride, Mdm Chan shares with me that they would also invite her to the company’s Dinner and Dance where she had lots of fun dressing up to fit in with the theme of that year. That was before the pandemic started. “I even splurged about $200 on my Hollywood-themed outfit!” Her excitement was evident.
“Aunty, do you enjoy your work?” I ask.
“Of course!” replies Mdm Chan in a heartbeat.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from keeping the workspace spick and span. It’s like giving the others a conducive environment to work in, it makes my work purposeful,” she tells me.
“No matter what your role in life is, everyone can excel in what they do as long as they put their heart into it.”
To many workers like Mdm Chan, the PWM, together with Workfare Income Supplement have helped to uplift their lives. However, there’s more that we can do for them as we progress together as a country. Perhaps all of us – Government, employers, unions, and Singaporeans alike – have a role to play in the way we support them.
Let’s start with a little more kindness and appreciation.