SHE may be wearing the hotel's uniform, but the chambermaid who cleans your room during your next staycation break might not be a member of its staff.

The Straits Times has learnt that in the last six months, 15 Singapore hotels have awarded contracts to a new start-up that supplies them with housekeeping.

They include large luxury establishments in the Suntec area, as well as international chains in Orchard Road.

The hotels were reluctant to be named for this report, but all had the same requirement: The outsourced cleaners wear the same uniform as their own staff.

This arrangement is better for the hotel's image, and avoids customers becoming concerned about security. 'The guests will not like non-employees entering their rooms,' said a hotel human resources executive who asked not to be named.

Mr John Sartain, who started the business last year, accepted the arrangement: 'It is a start.'

The Singapore permanent resident, who was formerly the general manager at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel and Mandarin Orchard Hotel, told The Straits Times that hotels' unfamiliarity with outsourcing is limiting their growth.

'Hotels see housekeeping as their core function and are reluctant to outsource, even though there are benefits such as converting their fixed housekeeping labour costs into a variable one.'

Outsourcing may not necessarily be cheaper for hotels, but it takes away the headache of having to manage staff, including their medical leave and salaries, said Mr Sartain. 'They can then focus on what they do best, which is to sell the rooms and leave the housekeeping to us.'

And hotels will continue to set their own housekeeping standards, which his workers will have to meet.

Rendezvous Grand Hotel's general manager Kellvin Ong said: 'As long as the housekeepers can maintain the same standard, it doesn't matter whether they are hotel or outsourced staff.'

Still, not all hotels are getting on the outsourcing bandwagon.

Klapsons, The Boutique Hotel opted to train its front-desk staff to carry out simple housekeeping duties.

The Park Hotel Group has more than 20 staff who can do three-in-one jobs as receptionist, waiter and housekeeper.

But even as hotels take tentative steps to outsource housekeeping, the practice is already taking place on a smaller scale.

The Straits Times tracked down home-grown MetroCleaners, which has housekeeping contracts with serviced apartments.

Last week, reporters saw how its housekeepers, working in three-man teams, were able to restore an untidy Chinatown serviced apartment to a spotless state in 20 minutes.

Its chief operating officer Heu Sin Hua said that his company with a 20-strong staff has the potential to grow, but only if he can find enough workers.

Mr Sartain agreed, adding that he had to turn away clients 'almost on a daily basis' because he was unable to hire enough workers, despite offering an attractive monthly salary as high as $1,400.

The median gross pay of hotel cleaners, including chambermaids, was $1,162 last year, according to the Manpower Ministry.

For Mr Heu, outsourcing is merely symptomatic of the larger problem of manpower shortages. 'Clients that turn to us when they don't have cleaners will find that we may not be able to help them, because we don't have enough workers ourselves,' he said in a resigned tone.