Public Hygiene Council

Keep Singapore Clean


Reducing use of foreign workers - everyone can play a part

May 09, 2020
Almost 20,000 of the 700,000 foreign workers on work permit in Singapore are in the cleaning industry.

The Public Hygiene Council (PHC) has long argued that our heavy dependence on these, mostly low-skilled foreign workers to keep Singapore clean is not sustainable.

With the plight of foreign workers in Singapore dominating the news, it is timely for the PHC to reiterate its message that all Singapore residents must be more responsible for the cleanliness of our country. We must make good hygiene practices our daily responsibility.

Binning our trash, returning trays at hawker centres and flushing public toilets after use are practices that could help us reduce the number of foreign workers we need.

The way public eating places are run also needs to be revamped - including the infrastructural plan and layout of the premises, the design and installation of tray return stations, how the cleaners are groomed and trained, how the owners manage their premises, and how standards and guidelines are supervised and enforced.

These will result in cleaner premises, a more pleasant environment and quicker turnover of customers for stall operators.

These bold initiatives may be painful in the short run but are necessary to establish new norms that yield lasting benefits, such as a lower dependence on low-wage foreign workers.

We are far behind Japan, South Korea and Taiwan when it comes to cleanliness in public places. In those territories, cleaners are higher skilled and better paid. They wear smart uniforms and command the respect of society. They face no stigma. We would do well to learn from them.

The Government has repeatedly stressed that this is a time for us to reflect on what the Covid-19 crisis has taught us.

The PHC hopes that everyone will start taking public cleanliness much more seriously, because this affects us collectively and individually.

Edward D'Silva
Public Hygiene Council

Credit: The Straits Times