Straits Times: NEA launches refreshed plan to raise stand...
17 Jan, Tue

SINGAPORE – Certain companies in cleaning, waste collection and pest management will be encouraged to broaden their services beyond one environmental service sector amid labour constraints.

This was one aim outlined by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Monday at the launch of its refreshed plan to improve productivity and raise standards in the environmental services industry by 2025.

NEA said it envisages that by building on the capabilities of companies with sufficient resources, about 10 per cent of them will expand into more than one environmental service sector.

This comes as the industry grapples with a declining workforce, exacerbated by a manpower shortage in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw many cleaners and waste collection attendants returning to Malaysia.

The pandemic, however, also helped to reduce the industry’s reliance on manual labour as companies adopted more forms of technology, such as robotic floor sweepers, NEA noted.

NEA’s refreshed plan to transform the industry aims to create more than 1,600 professional, managerial, executive and technical jobs by 2025.

These roles include those of data analysts and sustainability managers as the agency looks to support green growth areas in the industry.

Speaking at the launch of the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map 2025 at the Environment Building in Scotts Road, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Koh Poh Koon said: “The environmental services industry will be positioned as one that turns national and industry challenges into value creation opportunities through research, development and innovation.

“It will prepare environmental services firms for emerging opportunities in growth areas, both locally and internationally, such as robotics and automation, resource recovery, circularity of materials… and carbon capture from waste management.”

With the introduction of the Progressive Wage Model for the cleaning and waste management sectors from July 1, more than 44,000 resident workers are expected to benefit from upcoming wage climbs and upskilling opportunities, he added.

The industry now comprises about 1,700 companies and has more than 71,000 workers.

The plan to transform standards in the environmental services industry was launched in 2017, with the pest management sector included in the map about two years later.

In 2020, a study of the pest management sector commissioned by NEA and Workforce Singapore brought up issues such as varied quality standards, in part due to low entry barriers, as well as a manpower shortage that was compounded by the poor public perception of such jobs.

Adoption of science and technology was also slow owing to duplication of efforts in research and development by both service providers and suppliers, and concerns over efficacy and returns on investment, the study found.

President of the Singapore Pest Management Association Albert Lee said the refreshed plan, with initiatives such as the NEA-Industry Scholarship Programme, will help attract young talent.

“For the past decade, the labour pool in the pest management sector has been declining as we compete for the same workforce as those working for logistics and delivery platforms, which initially offer a higher pay,” he said.

“This transformation plan helps outline future career paths that we can tap, as well as opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises to optimise and digitalise their processes.”

Ms Goh Fang Wei, executive director of the Waste Management & Recycling Association of Singapore, noted that while digitalisation and automation will reduce reliance on manpower, attracting younger workers will still be important for the future of the industry.

She said the refreshed map shows the younger generation that waste collection requires skills and there are also many esteemed positions available. “It’s no longer like the older generation used to say: ‘If you don’t study or don’t do well, you become a garbage collector.’”

As part of the industry’s transformation, all government agencies have been required since May 2020 to adopt outcome-based cleaning contracts in new tenders.

These specify outcomes, whereas traditional manpower-based contracts fixed the number of workers deployed. Outcome-based contracts give cleaning companies more flexibility to optimise manpower, technology and processes amid a declining workforce.

To date, about 40 per cent of large service buyers have shifted to such contracts, said NEA, adding that it intends to encourage greater adoption of such contracts in the private sector.

Under a programme to foster collaborations between NEA and the industry, more than 35 companies have also successfully exported their technology solutions overseas.

Among them is local cleaning robot company LionsBot International, which designs and manufactures robots here and has deployed 1,500 robots worldwide. About 400 of these robots clean places in Singapore, including shopping malls, schools and MRT stations.

Mr Dylan Ng Terntzer, co-founder and chief executive of LionsBot International, said that where professional cleaning robots are concerned, “Singapore has the highest number of cleaning robots for a city”.

“NEA’s focus on technology growth really helped to accelerate adoption and acceptance of cleaning robots in the whole ecosystem,” he said.

Source of News: The Straits Times

Straits Times: MOM enforces compliance with progressive w...
10 Jan, Tue

SINGAPORE – Employers are required to pay eligible workers the applicable progressive wage based on each worker’s job scope, and the Manpower Ministry (MOM) enforces compliance with these requirements through inspections and investigations of complaints, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng.

Dr Tan was responding to Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) in a written reply to his Parliament question on Monday.

The Workers’ Party MP had asked if MOM tracks employee compensation patterns for firms that have adopted the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), and in particular, whether the ministry has detected any systematic efforts to reduce total compensation disbursed by the company to the employee, in response to instituting the PWM.

Dr Tan said that employers may face suspension of work pass privileges if they are found to be non-compliant with progressive wage requirements.

Enforcement is complemented by education, so that employers are aware of the requirements. Employers can decide on workers’ overall compensation structure, provided progressive wage requirements are adhered to.

Developed by tripartite committees consisting of unions, employers and the Government, the PWM helps to uplift lower-wage workers’ wages. It covers Singapore citizens and permanent residents in sectors like cleaning, security, landscape, lift and escalator, and retail job roles.

Since the progressive wage approach was expanded in 2022, MOM has not found any substantiated case of companies reducing total compensation to employees in response to progressive wage requirements.

“In a tight labour market, it is not in employers’ interests to do so. Those who do will likely not be able to attract and retain their workers,” said Dr Tan.

He added that progressive wages increase annually according to a schedule that is negotiated by tripartite consensus, which ensures that workers see meaningful wage increases over time.

In the five-year period from 2016 to 2021, the real median gross monthly wages of cleaners, security guards and landscape maintenance workers grew by an average cumulative rate of 13 per cent, faster than the median worker at 10 per cent.


Source: The Straits Times 

Channel NewsAsia: Proposed Bill amendment to raise cleani...
09 Jan, Mon

A proposed amendment to the Environmental Public Health Bill aims to raise standards in the cleaning industry with a new licensing framework from next year. The new rules require firms to have higher paid-up capital to invest in manpower

Video Source: Youtube – Official CNA Channel

Straits Times: New Bill seeks progressive wages for waste...
09 Jan, Mon

Separately, the cleaning business licensing framework will introduce three classes of licences, all valid for two years at a time.

Currently, there is only one type of licence for cleaning businesses, and it is valid for one year and is renewable.

Under the proposed framework, the Class 3 licence, which has requirements similar to the current licence’s, is a non-renewable one available only once to new businesses and those still licensed under the current regime from Dec 31, 2023.

It is meant to give new entrants leeway to ramp up their operations and ultimately commit themselves to the industry, as well as give existing players two more years to grow to what two higher classes of licences require.

In the long run, cleaning businesses are expected to at least hold the renewable Class 2 licence, which requires licensees to hold a paid-up capital of $25,000.

This paid-up capital requirement was introduced to ensure that operators can keep up with wage climbs under the cleaning sector’s existing PWM for the long haul and adopt more technology, NEA said.

Firms with higher capabilities may apply for the Class 1 licence, an enhanced tier with a higher skills bar requiring staff to complete at least three Workforce Skills Qualifications training modules, compared with two modules for Class 2 and 3 licensees.

Class 1 licence holders also must have more paid-up capital – $250,000 – and be free of convictions in the 24 months preceding its application. This licence replaces the voluntary accreditation that firms currently apply for separately from the existing licensing regime under the Enhanced Clean Mark Accreditation Scheme.

Said NEA: “Class 1 licensees can signal their commitment to invest in training of the workforce to attain more cleaning competencies, and to provide more assurance to service buyers that they are equipped with further resources to undertake larger cleaning projects.”

Both Class 1 and Class 2 licensees need to attain Level 3 on the bizSafe workplace safety and health programme too.

Mr Chew Ming Fai, NEA deputy chief executive of public health and director-general of public health, told reporters at a briefing that the agency is looking into revising an existing requirement for government agencies to procure cleaning services only from accredited businesses.

“We are looking into whether this requirement can be revised such that government procurement agencies procure cleaning services from Class 1 licensees in the long run.”

About one-third of the 1,550 licensed cleaning businesses currently qualify for at least a Class 2 licence, said NEA.

The criteria for a Class 2 licence are reasonably attainable, said Mr Tony Chooi, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore.

The association has 114 member firms, which together hire about 70 per cent of cleaners at NEA-registered firms, with almost half of its members hiring 100 cleaners or fewer.

“We feel that the paid-up capital reflects the company’s commitment to the cleaning business. This commitment would translate into investment in improving professionalism, which is necessary to uplift overall cleaning standards and contribute to building a more resilient and competent workforce,” Mr Chooi said.

Consolidation of market players could occur, he said, noting that the number of NEA-licensed cleaning businesses is high, considering Singapore’s size and population.

Straits Times: Operations jobs remained hard to fill as a...
02 Jan, Mon

SINGAPORE – The construction sector remained the most pressed for labour as at last September, with almost one position unfilled for every labourer it hired.

Reflecting the shortage of blue-collar workers – who make up a fifth of Singapore’s. 3.5 million resident workforce – seven out of the 10 jobs with the most need for staff were for operational roles such as bus drivers, security guards, cleaners and table-service employees.

Some of these jobs will come under the Progressive Wage Model, which will cover lower-wage workers in the food service sector, administrators and drivers in March.

The trends were seen in the latest job vacancy data released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Friday.

The percentage of unfilled positions wanted for each job is measured against the total number of vacancies in its respective industry, which can be construction, manufacturing, transportation and storage, as well as others.

Three white-collar jobs – marketing sales executive, software developer and software applications manager – were among the 10 professions that had the least success in finding workers.

MOM also reported vacancies in different occupational groups and qualifications.

Among professionals, coaches and trainers were the most in demand, with 13.6 per cent vacancies. Welders and flame cutters were the most sought-after in the craftsmen category, at 29.5 per cent.

Among clerical support workers, the general office clerk probably had the widest choice of employer, with 56.4 per cent vacancies, or one opening for every employed clerk.

For job seekers with a diploma, getting a management executive position was their best bet, while those with a degree or higher qualifications had the best chance at a sales and marketing executive job, which had 8.9 per cent room to hire.

For 2023, recruiters are pointing to technology and banking as hot job sectors. There will also be opportunities in healthcare, sustainability and cyber security.

Source of News: The Straits Times
Straits Times: NEA exploring table-cleaning robot at hawk...
28 Nov, Mon

SINGAPORE – Hawker centres may get automated table cleaners under the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) plan to support manual labour.

A two-month trial of a robot will be conducted at a suitable hawker centre and stallholders there will not need to bear any costs of the trial, an NEA spokesman told The Straits Times.

Observers said the robot could help to meet the manpower crunch as the cleaning workforce ages, but its development might be slowed by the still-developing autonomous table-cleaning technology.

In a tender called by NEA on Nov 7, the agency said that while its tray-return policy has drastically reduced the workload on the cleaning workforce, there is a need to supplement manual cleaning labour with automation that can patrol, clean and wipe tables that have been vacated.

Even after the returning of trays was made mandatory in June 2021, cleaners generally must still clean dining tables as well as sort and clear used crockery, cutlery and trays of food remnants at tray-return stations before used items are washed, the NEA spokesman said.

Autonomous table-cleaning robots can support and complement cleaners so that tables are cleaned faster, she added.

According to tender documents, the robot should be able to clean the table in under one minute and navigate from table to table within another minute, leaving unsuitable tables for human cleaners.

If successful, the machine could be one of the earliest mass-produced table-cleaning robots in the world, said observers and robot developers.

Associate Professor Pham Quang Cuong from Nanyang Technological University’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering said that while the technology for automated floor-cleaning robots is widely commercialised, those that can clean tables appear to still be at an early stage.

In November 2021, for instance, Google disclosed that it had developed a robot that can wipe tables with a squeegee, but to date, the machine is still not mature enough to be commercialised, said Prof Pham.

Cleaning robots that are currently commercially available are used only for routine and repetitive tasks such as cleaning floors, windows and swimming pools, not for dynamic environments, said service robot company Ourglass Robotics’ chief executive William Dai.

Mr Ling Ting Ming, founder and CEO of robotics company Otsaw, said NEA’s robot will need to navigate crowds on top of cleaning crockery.

He said: “Having a robot navigate dynamic groups of humans will be a challenge, especially since hawker centres can get quite crowded and are not built for robot cleaners to move between tables.”

While NEA did not disclose the location of the trial, tender documents said the robot must be able to pass between tables spaced apart like those in Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre.

Hawkers at the centre told ST on Nov 25 that they had previously observed another table-cleaning robot being trialled at the centre, adding that any future robots had to be faster for them to be convinced.

Ms Wei Xia, 46, who was manning the Beef King by Yassin Kampung stall, said: “If it could lower the costs of cleaning that would be good, but when a table-cleaning robot was trialled a few months ago, I felt that humans were faster.”

Freshly Made Hong Kong Style Zhu Chang Fen stallholder Kevin Yong, 60, who noticed that the robot stopped whenever people walked past it, said he was concerned that the machine might stall during peak hours because of human traffic.

Said Mr Yong, who identified himself as the secretary of Marsiling Mall Merchants’ and Hawkers’ Association: “Just one table is going to take donkey’s years.”

The recent tender comes amid a surge in the use of autonomous cleaning robots in the healthcare and hospitality sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hotel chains such as Hilton, InterContinental and Marriott are using robots for room cleaning and to make room service deliveries, said Professor David Tan, co-director of National University of Singapore’s Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and the Law.

He added that in a future where autonomous table-cleaning robots are deployed, organisations will have to determine which parties are responsible for paying compensation if a cleaning robot spills a bowl of hot soup onto a young child.

It should also not come at the cost of vulnerable segments in Singapore, he said.

He said: “In Singapore, the use of cleaning robots may arguably be more efficient or even desirable in the light of the manpower crunch experienced by the food and beverage sector.

“However, one also has to look at the social impact of such accelerated automation, as more vulnerable segments of our local population may be relying on such cleaning jobs as their stable source of income.”

Ourglass Robotics’ Mr Dai said it is more productive and efficient to make robots that can help workers, instead of ones to replace them. He added that many of the elderly workers his company has spoken to have fears that they might be replaced by machines.

He said: “Elderly workers are still better at wiping the table. They are just not strong enough to carry (heavy items) and can’t walk fast enough.

“Pairing up workers with a delivery robot is a good solution. It can turn a cleaner auntie into a robot supervisor or a super-auntie – that would make her feel better.”

Source: The Strait Times

MOM: Uplifting Cleaning Industry's Professionalism by Com...
08 Oct, Sat

MOM had recently charged an individual from conservancy company Lian Cheng for collecting kickbacks, and had put out a press release on the case (Operations manager faces 61 charges for collecting $396,440 in kickbacks from 56 migrant workers, 29 Sep 22).

In addition, EMAS would like to share the following useful points:

1.               It is an offence under section 22A(1) of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act 1990 (“EFMA”) to receive moneys in connection with the employment of a foreign employee. The relevant provision provides:

“22A.—(1)  A person must not deduct from any salary payable to a foreign employee, or demand or receive, directly or indirectly and whether in Singapore or elsewhere, from a foreign employee any sum or other benefit —

(a)        as consideration or as a condition for the employment of the foreign employee, whether by that person or any other person;

(b)        as consideration or as a condition for the continued employment of the foreign employee, whether by that person or any other person; or

(c)        as a financial guarantee related, in any way, to the employment of the foreign employee, whether by that person or any other person.”

2.               This is a serious offence that is punishable by a fine of up to $30,000, imprisonment of up to 2 years, or both.

3.               The Court in the recent case of Public Prosecutor v Boon Fuxin (Wen Fuxin) [2021] SGDC 130 imposed 4 weeks’ imprisonment for each charge under section 22A(1) EFMA. The reasons given by the Court for imposing imprisonment included that:

(a)             The Accused opportunistically sought to enrich himself by seeking monthly payments from the foreign workers as he knew that they would pay if they wanted to continue living illegally in Singapore.

(b)             Imposing only a fine for the section 22A(1)(b) offences in this case would not be appropriate as seeking payments to guarantee their continuing illegal in Singapore was akin to demanding a payment of a bribe which is a very serious offence.

(c)             There is a strong public interest in deterring the solicitation and receipt of kickbacks to facilitate the continuation of an offence and this requires the imposition of a custodial sentence.

4.               Errant companies are also liable to be barred from applying for new work passes and/or from renewing existing work passes.

5.               Members should put in place appropriate processes and mechanisms to detect cases of illegal kickbacks, including ensuring proper documentation of payments made by employees and implementing reporting mechanisms for employees.

EMAS encourages our members to closely monitor your operations and HR practices.

Channel NewsAsia: MOM launches workplace safety code of p...
19 Sep, Mon

As part of a code of practice that will kick in by October, company leaders in Singapore will soon have to follow a set of measures to ensure safety and health at the workplace. There have been 37 workplace deaths in Singapore in just nine months. Speaking at a Workplace Safety and Health Conference, Manpower Minister said some were due to inadequate control measures or not following safety procedures.

Video Source: Youtube – Official CNA Channel