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Tripartite advisory on ensuring sustainability of the cleaning sector in view of COVID-19

Jointly issued by the NEA, MOM, NTUC, SNEF, EMAS, and Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners.

Issued on 17 April 2020
Updated on 10 November 2021

Introduction

  1. This advisory provides recommendations on measures that service buyers and providers should adopt to ensure the sustainability of the cleaning sector in view of COVID-19.
  2. The first advisory was introduced on 17 April 2020 at the start of COVID-19 pandemic to help sustain the cleaning sector during the circuit breaker period. As Singapore transits to an endemic COVID-19 state, it is timely for an update of the advisory to provide targeted guidance on the revised testing and healthcare protocols.

    Crucial to ensure sustainability of cleaning sector
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant disruptions to the demand and supply of cleaning services by service buyers and providers respectively, as well as the livelihoods of cleaners. Adjustments would have to be made by all stakeholders through close cooperation to ensure the sustainability of the cleaning sector, with the support of the Government.
  4. Service buyers play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of service providers and the cleaning sector, notwithstanding that cleaning is an outsourced service. This includes making reasonable business arrangements that enable service providers to continue to employ their cleaners and retain their capabilities during the current COVID-19 situation, so that essential cleaning services can be maintained during this period and resume further when businesses reopen and the economy starts to recover.
  5. COVID-19 situation is likely to be drawn out, unsustainable practices will compromise the ability of service providers to keep premises clean during this crucial period, as well as their longer-term viability. Such an outcome would be detrimental to service buyers, service providers and cleaners, as well as the general public.

    Recommendations
  6. Reprioritise and reallocate cleaning needs. For contracts affected by the current COVID-19 situation, especially for premises with increased cleaning intensity without increased fee payments, service buyers should exercise flexibility and work with providers to review cleaning needs. Service buyer and service provider should come to an agreement to focus cleaning on higher priority areas (e.g. locations with higher footfall), while reducing cleaning intensity and/or frequency at lower priority areas, without being constrained by existing contractual requirements such as required frequency for cleaning, headcount deployment and cleaning outcomes. This redistribution can help to manage service providers’ and cleaners’ workloads and maintain it at levels consistent with their normal scope of duties. If the cleaning intensity and/or frequency remains significantly higher even after reprioritisation and reallocation, service buyers should consider exercising their discretion to provide additional payments to service providers and cleaners (see also para 9).
  7. Exercise restraint in activating penalty clauses. There may be unforeseen instances where service providers may not be able to fulfil the contractual expectations due to manpower shortage when employees test positive for COVID-19 and are undergoing home recovery or treatment. In such instances, service buyers should demonstrate understanding towards service providers by exercising restraint in activating liquidated damages contract clauses to penalise service providers, for breaches in contract clauses that are beyond the service providers’ control.
  8. Discuss resourcing to adhere to vaccination and testing requirements for cleaners reporting to the workplace. Service buyers and providers should discuss and mutually agree on the shared responsibilities and additional resources needed to adhere to prevailing safe management requirements, e.g. provision of test kits, monitoring the reporting of test results if required.
  9. Pay service providers appropriately. Service providers should be paid as per contract terms if there is no change in cleaning services required. If there is any significant change in cleaning services required, service buyers should engage service providers to reach a mutually agreed revision to payments for the cleaning services:
    1. Pay for additional services on top of regular cleaning contract. Significant nett increases in cleaning services (e.g. deep cleaning of premises due to confirmed or potential COVID-19 cases) should be accompanied by increased payments.
    2. Maintain baseline level of cleaning services. Even when there are significant decreases in cleaning service required (e.g. due to reduced footfall), it is recommended that some baseline level of cleaning is maintained for health and sanitation reasons, so that such premises will be able to resume operations without health or environmental hazards thereafter. Payments to service providers can be mutually agreed considering the revised baseline level of cleaning.
  10. Remunerate cleaners appropriately. If there is any significant change in cleaning services required, service providers should remunerate their cleaners appropriately:
    1. For cleaners with higher workloads (e.g. due to increased frequency and intensity of cleaning), service providers should consider increasing their wages, and/or providing them with allowances. This is also in recognition that cleaners face additional exposure in cleaning and disinfecting potentially contaminated premises.
    2. For cleaners with reduced workloads (e.g. due to decreased footfalls, or decreased service provision required arising from safe management measures), service providers should comply with the tripartite advisories related to salary and leave arrangements1 to retain and continue to pay their employees, even during periods of reduction in business activity.
  11. Seize opportunity to upskill workers. Service providers should consider taking this opportunity to send cleaners, particularly those with decreased workloads, for training and upskilling. They can tap on Government support, such as the Workfare Skills Support and Enhanced Training Support for SMEs, to help defray training costs as well as receive absentee payroll funding.
  12. Continue to ensure workplace safety and health (WSH) of cleaners. Our cleaners are at the frontline in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic; they face additional exposure and increased workloads. These risk factors reinforce the importance of service buyers and providers ensuring that workplaces are made safe for them, such as the provision of suitable personal protective equipment, and emplacement on relevant WSH training courses. Companies should facilitate vaccination by granting paid time-off to cleaners for their vaccination (including vaccination booster shots), and additional paid sick leave (beyond contractual or statutory requirement) in the rare event that they experience a vaccine-related adverse reaction. Special consideration should be given to workers who are certified to be medically ineligible for vaccines under the National Vaccination Programme or are pregnant.

    Conclusion
  13. The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult period for both service buyers and providers, as well as cleaners. All stakeholders should share the responsibilities arising from changes in cleaning services required. The tripartite partners call on all stakeholders to work together, to review and reprioritise cleaning needs, as well as explore voluntary renegotiation of contracts or payments for variations in cleaning intensity and/or frequency. Cleaners should be appropriately recognised and remunerated for any increased workload and risks they shoulder. The tripartite partners also urge all service buyers and providers, and cleaners to adhere to the Safe Management Measures to mitigate the risk of widespread COVID-19 transmission that may disrupt the cleaning business operations and manpower resources. This will ensure the sustainability of the cleaning sector and cleanliness of our premises during this COVID-19 pandemic.
  14. For further queries, please contact:

    National Environment Agency (NEA)
    Online enquiry
    www.nea.gov.sg

    Ministry of Manpower
    Online enquiry
    www.mom.gov.sg

    National Trades Union Congress (NTUC)
    ucarecentre@ntuc.org.sg

    Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF)
    Industrial and Workplace Relations

    advisory@snef.org.sg

    Environmental Management Association of Singapore (EMAS)
    www.emas.org.sg
    secretariat@emas.org.sg

FOOTNOTE

  1. This includes the Tripartite advisory on salary and leave arrangements during Circuit Breaker, issued on 9 Jun 2020 and updated on 23 Jun 2021.