Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the 9th EMAS’ Golf and Dinner 2022
Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment
Mr Tony Chooi, President of Environmental Management Association of Singapore
Mr Zainal Sapari, Assistant Director-General, NTUC, and Director, NTUC Care Division
Mr Fahmi Aliman, Director, NTUC, and Mayor, South East District
Ladies and gentlemen
1 Good evening. It is my pleasure to join you for the 9th EMAS Golf and Dinner event. It is especially meaningful that today’s event is being held in conjunction with the 5th Thank Your Cleaner Day event co-organised by EMAS and Kärcher.
2 I remember attending the 1 st Thank Your Cleaner Day event back in 2018 at the Singapore Zoo, where more than 250 cleaners were invited for a day out with their families. Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, EMAS and Kärcher continued to honour our more than 40,000 cleaners by distributing vouchers for essential items as well as discount coupons. Five years on, I am happy to grace the ceremony once again.
Challenges brought about during COVID-19
3 The COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in significant disruptions to the demand and supply of cleaning services, and this had affected the livelihoods of cleaners. During the Circuit Breaker and Heightened Alert, our cleaners might have been impacted when dining-in was not permitted. On the other hand, some faced increased workload due to higher demand for disinfection work or when they had to cover co-workers who got infected.
4 Disinfection cleaning is more complicated than general cleaning because it involves use of appropriate chemical solvents and technology such as cold fogging that kills viruses. Precautionary measures were important to keep our cleaners and their workplaces safe. For example, gloves, surgical masks and in certain premises, wearing of face shields or even personal protective equipment (PPE) were necessary. I commend EMAS for collaborating with Institutes of Higher Learning 1 to offer joint courses on the proper use of PPE and disinfection. This helped to equip our frontliners with the latest skills and knowledge needed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 I wish to make a special mention of Mr Kamal, who is here with us this evening. Mr Kamal joined the cleaning sector two years ago when he lost his previous job due to the pandemic. At the age of 47, he faced challenges in finding a job, and took on the position of a general cleaner. Recognising that higher productivity benefits employees, his company sent him for training courses to upskill and upgrade. He then got promoted to cleaning supervisor and today, Mr Kamal is an operations supervisor. Let us applaud Mr Kamal for his positive attitude and resilience.
Leveraging cutting-edge technology
6 I am heartened that cleaning companies have also begun to embrace technology. Supported by various Government grants and programmes such as the National Environment Agency (NEA)’s INCUBATE (Innovating and Curating Better Automation and Technologies for Environmental Services) partnership with owners of premises, we want to catalyse the cleaning industry’s adoption of technological solutions to raise workforce productivity and skillsets.
7 HeartBeat@Bedok Community Hub is one good example. They have deployed a multi-purpose robot that cleans floors, as well as conducts security surveillance to report suspicious loiterers and unattended bags. This raises productivity for both the cleaning and security workforce, enabling cleaners to devote time to other tasks such as wiping high-touch points like door handles and escalator handrails. The hub also uses smart compactor litter bins which alert cleaners when the bins are almost full. Previously, cleaners had to check the bins every four hours.
8 With the use of robotics and technology, cleaning tasks will change. We need to ensure that workers are continually upskilled with the necessary competencies to take on jobs that require digital knowledge. General cleaners and operations staff will have to be equipped with knowledge on how to use and maintain automated or robotic solutions, conduct basic data collection and analysis to optimise workflow and increase productivity. Such skillsets signal to the public and service buyers that the cleaning sector is going digital, which would also be a boost to the sector’s image.
Professionalising the cleaning sector
9 Another key strategy to transform the industry is the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), which has been implemented under the cleaning business licensing regime since September 2015. The PWM for the cleaning sector works in conjunction with other initiatives under the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM) to enhance wage progression and upskill the workforce. Over the years, continual enhancements have been made to the PWM, such as the addition of the PWM bonus, and enhanced training requirements. Last month, the PWM was extended to in-house cleaners as well.
10 The PWM has had positive impact on our cleaners in uplifting wages year on year, and employers also recognise the benefits of fair commensuration and upskilling to retain and professionalise their workforce. We hope to see more good outcomes from the PWM and look forward to your continued support and commitment in safeguarding the interests of our cleaners.
Everyone plays a part in making Singapore a clean city
11 COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of good personal hygiene and clean public spaces. The pandemic has forced many to re-think the value that we, as a society, place on essential service workers. If we truly appreciate the work of our essential service workers, then it is time for all stakeholders to be bold and chart a new normal for this industry.
12 Last year, the Public Hygiene Council (PHC) started the quarterly SG Clean Day where there will be no sweeping at all public parks, gardens, park connectors, open areas, ground levels of public residential estates, and selected participating premises (e.g., Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Zoo and Sentosa) on a particular day. The intent is to show how much litter there will be without the help of cleaners, and help everyone understand that we each have a part to play in keeping Singapore clean. Members of the public are also encouraged to take part in clean-up activities during the quarterly SG Clean Day to help us better empathise and appreciate our cleaners.
13 The NEA also implemented the Clean Tables Campaign last year. Since the returning of trays was made mandatory, the national average Tray and Crockery Return Rate (TCRR) in hawker centres has improved significantly from 65% in August 2021 to close to 90%. Similarly, the TCRR is also at around 90% at our coffeeshops and food courts today. Such initiatives have helped to instil a sense of ownership in members of the public to keep our shared environment clean. Only when we work together, will we be able to transform from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city.
14 Let me conclude. With or without the pandemic, the cleaning workforce has always been essential to Singapore, and we appreciate all that our cleaners do. Congratulations to everyone who will be receiving your appreciation plaques. I hope this recognition will encourage you to keep up the great work and continue to inspire others around you.