Singaporean elderly cleaner; TOC

In a move to address widening inequality in Singapore, the Singapore government announced that cleaners will be getting a mandatory two-week annual bonus from 2020 onward. The Singapore government did not explain why the requirement could not start earlier in this year or in 2019.

There is also no mention about 13th month payment based on a 52 work-week arrangement. The two-week bonus is expected to be about S$400, after CPF deductions.

There are currently about 40,000 cleaners, with the bulk being Singaporean elderly retirees who were forced back into the workforce as CPF payouts dwindle from increasing withdrawal restrictions and low interest rates. The modal average salaries of Singapore cleaners is S$1,100, or S$850 take-home after CPF deductions. This salary has been stagnated since year 1999, until the government had to intervene and implement a minimum-wage equivalent of S$1,000 in 2012.

Low income wages continued to stagnate after 2012 and the government, again, was forced to increase the minimum wage to S$1,200 by 2019. Thereafter, the yearly mandatory increase would be at 3%, or $29 a year after CPF deductions.

Government unionist and PAP MP Zainal Sapari claimed that the wage increase are due to increase in productivity, but he was unable to produce any statistics or projections to back his statements:

“The PWM recognises that there is no shortcut to helping low-wage workers move up. To progress, they must have opportunities to acquire skills, be assigned work that makes use of those skills, and be paid accordingly for the improved productivity.”

From 2012 to 2017, productivity in the Accommodations and Food Services fell 5.6%. Salaries for cleaners have instead rose 20% over the same 5-year period.

Despite the nominal jump looking good on paper, Singapore cleaners are among the lowest paid in developed countries. A cleaner in Canada has a minimum wage of S$14 an hour, while cleaners in Australia earn a minimum S$20 an hour.

Singapore’s minimum wage for the cleaners cover only citizens and permanent residents, causing their employment prospects to be significantly lower than foreign workers. There is no official unemployment rate of elderly Singaporeans as they would be labelled as “retired” instead of a jobseeker upon reaching the retirement age of 67 years old.