From October, low-wage workers who do a good job in keeping Sembawang and Nee Soon housing estates clean will be paid more, under a novel arrangement in which the town council will help its cleaning contractor defray the costs of a larger wage bill.

When the Sembawang-Nee Soon Town Council renews its cleaning contract in October, it will become the first town council to directly top up the pay of the cleaners employed by its contractor.

It works like this: When the contractor raises the pay of a cleaner by $100, it will get $20 from the town council. The 20 per cent top-up by the town council is capped at $40 a worker a month.

This arrangement is only for local full-time cleaners earning above $1,000, which is what the town council said its local full-time cleaners are already earning.

Announcing the scheme yesterday, town council chairman Hawazi Daipi said that the move will improve the standards of cleanliness in the estate and reward full-time cleaners who do a good job.

It will also keep cleaners motivated in their jobs and residents will enjoy a cleaner environment, added Mr Hawazi, who is also the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and for Education.

The town council is prepared to run the scheme for three years, which is the term of its cleaning contract, its general manager Soon Min Sin told The Sunday Times.

He added that the move will add less than 0.5 per cent to the town council's cleaning expenditure.

The town council's latest annual report published last year indicated that it spent $12.1 million on cleaning works last year, up from $11.3 million in 2010.

The town council will work out the implementation details with the new cleaning contractor in October.

Its initiative follows a slew of measures by the Government and labour movement to boost the pay of low-income workers.

Last month, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) introduced a progressive wage concept to raise the pay of 10,000 cleaners to at least $1,000 a month by 2015.

The labour movement also wants those who do hard-labour jobs such as cleaning HDB housing estates or higher-productivity jobs such as operating cleaning machines to earn as much as $1,500.

In May, the National Wages Council gave its nod to an NTUC proposal to give at least a $50 pay hike to workers earning less than $1,000 - including cleaners.

There are 69,000 cleaners here, and three in four are locals.

A manager from Ramky Cleantech Services, the town council's current cleaning contractor, was present at the announcement yesterday, but declined to speak to The Sunday Times about the move to raise town council cleaners' pay.

'We don't even know whether we will get the new contract,' he said, walking away.

Cleaner Rosnah Aman, 55, was more forthcoming.

The Singaporean, who sweeps a block of HDB flats and an open-air carpark daily, earns a basic pay of $850 a month for working seven hours a day, 51/2 days a week.

She finds her job difficult and does not like to clean the lifts when they are soiled by urine, but stays on the job because she lives nearby and finds the hours manageable.

When asked whether a pay hike would motivate her to work harder, she replied without hesitation: 'Yes!'

She could take a day off yesterday because the town council had roped in 300 students and residents to pick up litter in the estate.

The project was the town council's way to raise residents' awareness of what it takes to get their neighbourhood clean.

Among the participants was retiree Su Chew Ying, 65. She said she supported raising cleaners' pay, but was worried it would mean higher service and conservancy fees.

Responding, Mr Hawazi said: 'In itself, no.'

The pay hike top-up can be funded by the town council's savings, but residents can still do their part to keep cleaning costs down too, he said.

'If we can cut down littering, there is less heavy cleaning needed, and we can slow down the increase in cleaning costs.'