In an effort to make work easier, safer and smarter, Labour grants can motivate workers by increasing their wages and making work less strenuous. Stone polisher Mr Ramesh Appu shares his story.
As closing time descends on Paragon shopping centre, the clicking of heels upon marble floors grow fainter, as shoppers stream out into the night with their bags of Burberry and Ferragamo. Shutters come down upon boutiques as they clear out their shop front displays; cafes discard the day’s unsold cakes. The mall empties, and silence settles over the cavernous retail space.
But for stone polisher Mr Ramesh Appu, the night is just beginning. He hauls out two machines, each the size of a large vacuum cleaner, but weighing at least ten times more. Yellow ‘Cleaning in progress’ signs demarcate the area he will cover for the night, while foam pads protect the glass windows of the watch shop he is working beside.
It is laborious work for the 44-year-old. Operating the polishing machine, he says, is like constantly supporting between 10 and 40kg of weight with his hips and upper body – a task that also requires mental focus to keep the machine on the right track. Lose concentration for a second, and it can easily spin out of control. The machine is called The Viper, but The Elephant seems like a better-suited moniker.
Mr Appu is used to it, he says, zipping the machine back and forth across the floor with the practised ease of an old hand. He has, after all, been in the stone polishing line for the past 15 years. But as age catches up, Mr Appu, who stands at a slight 58kg, admits that it gets more tiring to do the same job.
“When I am older, the machine will be more difficult to control. But I want to work as long as I can,” he said.
His boss and company owner Mr Chris Yeo, who runs Stonecrete Systems, has made it easier for Mr Ramesh to keep working. Last September, Mr Yeo received a grant from the employment and employability institute (E2I), as part of the inclusive growth programme.
He used it to grant to offset 30% of the cost of a new polishing machine called The Octopus, which cost $21,000 – a hefty sum compared to the $1,500 Viper. But for Mr Yeo, the investment was worth it.
“When the workers use The Octopus, they feel less tired and they won’t have back pains, and they are more motivated about work,” he said. Out of his three workers, two are in their forties, and Mr Yeo wants them to be able to work safely even as they grow older.
The Octopus is much easier to operate and control because it does not require the user to bear the weight of the machine. “It’s like pushing a trolley. I can do it with one finger,” said Mr Appu, who can complete his work up to two hours faster when he uses it. He has also received a $500 wage increase since he started working for Stonecrete in October last year, and now makes $1,800 per month.
The extra money goes into his savings, says Mr Appu, who lives with his wife and parents in a 3-room HDB flat near Farrer Park. But wages aside, a job and employer he is comfortable with is just as important, and he intends for this one to be his last. Gesturing around Paragon’s shiny marble floors, he said: “This is going to be my graveyard.”