$580 to learn how to clean toilets? SkillsFuture and NEA say mandatory classes teach 'essential skills'

Carmen Sin
The Straits Times
Feb 23, 2024

A $580 basic toilet cleaning course on the SkillsFuture portal drew ridicule from netizens this week, but agencies said such classes are part of mandatory training requirements for cleaners.

In response to queries, SkillsFuture Singapore and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a joint statement on Feb 22 that these classes teach existing and prospective cleaners “essential skills” for the washing of restrooms.

The 20 or so such classes found on the SkillsFuture portal range from basic to advanced and take between 30 and 40 hours to complete.

Before subsidies, most basic courses cost between $100 and $600. After SkillsFuture subsidies, the course fees range from $100 to $300.

On Feb 19, a screengrab of a listing for the “Perform basic cleaning of washrooms” course on SkillsFuture was posted on social media and roundly mocked for its $580 price tag before subsidies.

Netizens doubted the need for such a course and criticised the steep cost of $290, even after subsidies.

Facebook user Remaesh Krishnan commented: “Those days in army, we clean our toilets. No need course.”

But SkillsFuture and NEA said the course contributed significantly to the “professional development” of working cleaners.

In response to queries, a spokesman for one course provider, NTUC LearningHub, said these toilet cleaning courses aim to “professionalise the cleaning industry”.

The basic course, for instance, covers skills like the proper use of cleaning tools, proper cleaning of sanitary fixtures and the safe handling of cleaning agents, he added.

Its toilet washing courses, which range from $288 to $440 after subsidies, are mostly targeted at cleaning firms that pay to enrol their employees, the spokesman said.

The courses are in line with the Progressive Wage Model, facilitating “sustained wage growth for lower-wage workers by skills development, increased productivity and higher service standards”, he added.

The Progressive Wage Model is designed to improve the wages of Singapore’s lowest-paid sectors.

A six-year salary increment schedule is set out for cleaners in tandem with training and skills acquisition on their part.

Incentives are also provided to cleaning companies to enrol the cleaners in their employ.

For instance, absentee payroll capped at $100,000 a year for each firm is available, said the SkillsFuture and NEA statement.

Employers who sponsor their employees under the Workfare Skills Support scheme are also eligible for absentee payroll at up to 95 per cent of their hourly basic salary, capped at $13 an hour, it added.

Licensed businesses which do not send all their cleaners for the required courses under enhanced training requirements may be fined up to $5,000 and face suspension or revocation of their licences.

Since the training requirements took effect on Dec 31, 2022, more than 500 cleaners have attended the basic toilet cleaning course.

Cleaning firms The Straits Times spoke to said job seekers who have completed such courses are viewed favourably, but certification is not a prerequisite for hiring.

Conrad Maintenance Services chief executive Raymond Ng said: “With the courses, there will be priority for them to join us as cleaners, but as long as they have experience or a willing-to-learn attitude, we will hire them, too.”

New hires without certification will, in any case, be sent for the required training modules, said a spokesman for home cleaning firm SparkCleanz.

These modules – including the controversial basic toilet cleaning course – are “specifically designed to equip cleaners with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their duties effectively, maintain hygiene standards and ensure a safe working environment”, he added.

When asked for a reasonable price for the basic cleaning course, Mr Ng said anywhere between $250 and $350, though the sum should be fully subsidised by SkillsFuture credit.

Cleaner Sareswathy Mookiah, 52, who has been on the job for six years, said: “This kind of course, sooner or later, every company will send you.”

She added that she has attended around five training courses without ever paying a cent.

In line with the Progressive Wage Model guidelines, toilet or restroom cleaners are paid more than general cleaners.

“This is attributed to the specialised nature of restroom cleaning, and the additional skills and attention to detail required for maintaining hygiene standards in these areas,” said the SparkCleanz spokesman.

Under the current framework, all toilet or restroom cleaners now must be paid at least $1,795. By July 1, 2024, the amount must be at least $2,060. The salary must rise to at least $2,835 by July 1, 2028.

The Straits Times

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