SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minster Dr Vivian Balakrishnan predicts there will be a structural and chronic shortage of cleaners in the future.
He said this problem cannot be solved by opening the floodgates to foreign manpower nor paying cleaners more.
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, he stressed that to reduce the reliance of cleaners, especially at hawker centres, everyone should be more gracious by returning used crockery and utensils.
To encourage more patrons to do this, the ministry will be re—launching the tray—return campaign later this year.
The cleaning industry faces an uphill challenge in attracting workers due to the tight labour market, low supply of foreign manpower, and low wages of cleaners.
Everyone will eventually have to cope with fewer cleaners.
"As patrons, as customers, we will all have to be more gracious and more considerate, not only for the burden of the cleaners but also for the patrons who join us at the table, or eat subsequently at the same table as us.
"I would point out that it is very wrong to take the attitude that it is a paid—for service, therefore I don’t need to return the tray or I don’t need to clean up the mess that I leave behind. I think we should flag this out as simply ungracious, inconsiderate behaviour," he said.
Efforts are being made to improve the standards and professionalism of the cleaning industry and the labour movement said more can be done.
Director for Unit for Contract & Casual Workers of National Trades Union Congress, Zainal Bin Sapari, said: "I think a perfect storm is brewing in the cleaning industry. We are tightening the supply of foreign labour, the cleaning industry is not attractive to our local workers because of the low pay and the lack of civic graciousness on the part of some Singaporeans in terms of keeping the environment clean unless we take some concrete steps, we will continue to see cleaning cost escalate because it will get harder to keep the environment clean."
There have been several campaigns on tray—return in the past but with limited success. The government is reviewing lessons learnt from past efforts.
Patrons Channel NewsAsia spoke to have mixed feelings on how successful a similar campaign will be this time.
A patron said: "No it won’t work because we are used to be served by people. You have to start by teaching the children, then maybe from the next generation then it will work."
While another said: "Yes, I think it will work. It takes campaigning from the government and it takes peer pressure."
To make it easier for patrons to return their trays, hawker centres will be soon be retrofitted with better facilities.
Dr Vivian also assured members of the House that cleaners will not lose their jobs as a result of better tray—return habits.
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