What will happen if our cleaners go on strike?
Bins will overflow with empty plastic bottles, food packets and other trash if our cleaners refuse to turn up at work as a form of protest.
They might also scatter pieces of newspaper all over the floor to send a strong signal on whatever issue that’s keeping them unhappy.
Social media will be littered with travelers’ complaints and we’ll be scrambling to fix the mess as the reputation of our world class airport is at stake.
Yes, that could happen to Changi Airport but it’s not likely to happen. Not unless we have an airport like Barcelona.
Why are Barcelona cleaners unhappy?
Last week, Barcelona’s El Prat Airport which is one of the busiest in Europe, handling about 40 million passengers a year, was in the media for the wrong reasons.
Their cleaners held a five-day strike to protest against changes in work schedules and cut in leave days after the airport awarded a low-priced contract to operator company Valoriza.
This is not the first strike. In 2012, cleaners protested against budget cuts.
Cheap sourcing depresses workers’ wages
People are greedy in a sense, they want cheap and good stuff. They want low-cost and yet high quality services.
When service buyers (i.e. airports) cheap source, they are usually looking for cost savings.
When this happens, we should ask how can service providers (i.e. cleaning companies) pay their cleaners a decent wage and afford to operate on such low or even no profit margins?
Truth of the matter is, when contracts are valued at a very low cost, it’s highly likely that workers are not paid adequately or their salaries are depressed.
Best sourcing vs cheap sourcing
That’s why for the longest time, NTUC has been lobbying for service buyers to practice best-sourcing, where quality factors are considered too.
Pay a little bit more attention to the kind of employment benefits given by the service provider to the workers, because I believe workers with better employment benefits, better wages, they would generally be more, more motivated.
He also hopes that contracts could be longer in duration to help service providers recoup any investments that have been put in to serve the contracts.
Also, if contracts are renewed every two years and the existing service provider is doing a good job, could the service buyer allow its service provider to put in a higher tender price?
This way, employees under the service provider can get better employment benefits too.
Limitations of the Progressive Wage Model
The Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for the cleaning industry in Singapore was legislated to help uplift cleaners’ wages and skills.
With the implementation of Progressive Wage Model in 2015, cleaners who were previously earning $600 to $800 benefited from a 20 to 30 percent pay rise.
A general cleaner now earns minimum $1,000 while a machine operator earns at least $1,400. At the supervisory level, cleaners will earn $1,600.
However, NTUC is mindful that PWM is not a magic pill either.
For example, the PWM does not include annual increments and bonuses even if cleaners have done a good job.
Should cleaners get more protection against receiving worse benefits?
In NTUC Zainal Sapari’s latest blogpost, he wrote that cleaners asked if he could help do something to stop their annual leave from being reset to seven days and salary being cut when they are hired by a new employer.
Very few cleaners also get their “13th” month bonus because it is not mandatory by law.
Sounds familiar? Yep, the cleaners in Barcelona were probably facing similar issues.
NTUC Zainal Sapari also noted that the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) is in the final stage of finalising its recommendations. TCC comprises the union, employer/service providers, service buyers and the government.
Recommendations will address the issue or annual increments and payment of annual bonuses.
In case you’re wondering, cleaners at Changi Airport are from outsourced unionised companies – Ramky and Sargeant. Different terminals have different service providers.
Changi Airport is one of the best in this world. I cannot and will not imagine a day where it gets trashed like Barcelona airport.