Low skilled jobs shunned by locals – ideas to address problem

After Singapore became a developed nation with high per capita GDP, we face a problem with trying to fill up low skilled jobs such as cleaners and labour-intensive jobs such as construction industries with locals. Employers are saying that it is harder to fill up vacant positions and the foreign worker quota restricts them from engaging more foreigners for these jobs.

Let’s talk about cleaning industry, workers that clean eating places, streets in your neighbourhood and public places. More often, we see elderly people doing these jobs. They are someone’s parents or ours who instead of relaxing after raising a generation, have still to work to make a living. They are paid lowly because cleaning is considered low-skilled jobs.

In days before the term right-sourcing was in vogue, organisations including public sector institutions were picking vendors which could out-bid others at increasingly lower fees for cleaning contracts in successive open tenders. When come to the squeeze, cleaning contractors pay lower salaries to their own workers in order to still make a profit on the contract. So cleaners donned a different outfit and worked for new contractor that won the bid. These workers continued to clean your offices even when there was a change of contractor. They were willing to get less pay because they stayed nearby the place of work and it was hard to look for another job. So we have a situation of racing to the bottom to survive for such cleaning contracts.

Let’s talk of some ideas to address this problem.

1. In Economic, there is this thing called scarce resource. With scarce resource, procurer of this scarce resource must pay wages to engage labour. In true capitalist world, cleaners ought to be paid a lot more to engage their services, since this kind of work is shunned. Pay them enough and some Singaporeans may find it worthwhile to consider this work, much like plumbers are paid adequately and are willing to dirty their hands to clear choked toilet bowls for you. With rising cleaning cost as a result of higher salaries, this cost must be accepted as part of operating costs of organisations. Every organisation needs to budget higher cost for cleaning. This is a mind-set shift and every organisation in Singapore accepts the new equilibrium.

2. If possible, engage cleaners as part of payroll instead of outsourcing these jobs to external contractors. Town councils can do that. It may turn out that residents may be more careful so as not to dirty their estates because of higher service and conservancy charges. The principle is pay for your bad habits. The community will be forced to rally together to weed out bad behaviour of recalcitrant persons throwing litter anywhere without any qualms.

3. Form a Cleaners Association that can protect the interests of these members. We have Accounting bodies, Medical Associations, Law Society, etc., why not a Cleaners Association. Cleaning has to become a respected job and these cleaners keep Singapore clean.

4. Designate a day in a year as Cleaners’ Day. Show appreciation to them on this day. Nurses have their day, teachers have their day, why not a cleaners’ day.

On a final note, remember to give angpows during this Chinese New Year to these cleaners in your estate and show them you appreciate their hard work. Those people who take up this type of work deserve our thanks to keep our place clean. It is truly tiring work.

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