A NEW pay structure has been proposed for cleaners, with $1,000 set as the basic monthly starting pay.

This unprecedented move by a group of officials from unions, cleaning companies and the Government would raise the pay of cleaners by 23 per cent.

Currently, the median gross monthly pay of office cleaners is $815 a month, according to figures from the Manpower Ministry (MOM).

The pay guidelines also set out higher wages for cleaners doing more difficult jobs, stipulating the minimum amount they should be paid.

These suggested pay guidelines were announced yesterday at an event by NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How, who chairs the group.

He said that while these wage benchmarks are just "a set of indicative wages", he hopes companies will put them into practice.

The National Trades Union Congress has been striving to raise wages in the cleaning sector, as these have not risen in tandem with Singapore's economic growth.

Cleaners are the second lowest-paid workers in Singapore, earning more only than car washers, who make $750 a month.

Under the proposed guidelines, cleaners are categorised into three groups: those who clean offices, Housing Board estates, and hawker centres or food courts.

In each group, a minimum basic salary is recommended, with higher amounts for the more difficult jobs. For example, while all cleaners should get basic monthly pay of at least $1,000, those who clean HDB estates or wash dishes at hawker centres should be paid at least $1,200 each month because the work is harder.

Currently, dishwashers are paid $1,050 a month, according to MOM's figures.

Cleaning supervisors should get at least $1,600 a month, up from their current median pay of $1,485.

These pay guidelines, however, are not a move to set minimum wages for the cleaning sector, said labour MP Zainal Sapari, who was also present at the event.

"The guidelines motivate cleaners to look forward to higher salaries, whereas a minimum wage just sets a minimum pay and there is no higher pay for cleaners to look forward to," he said.

Yesterday's announcement comes four months after the NTUC said it wanted to raise the pay of 10,000 cleaners to at least $1,000.

But it would not be drawn into setting a timeline for raising their pay. "But I personally hope that it will not take more than two years," Mr Zainal said.

Singapore has 70,000 cleaners, of whom 46,000 are locals.

Cleaning companies interviewed foresee their wage bills rising but are resigned to it as the tight labour market has already forced them to raise pay to retain their cleaners.

Said Mr Tony Lim, managing director of Ban Chuan Trading and Engineering, which hires about 400 cleaners: "If we don't pay them, they will just join other companies."

He has 21 full-time cleaners who clean the Marsiling HDB estate daily, and he increased their monthly pay to $1,200 last month.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, added that those who buy cleaning services will also be paying more.

"With the latest move, the cost of cleaning contracts can go up by 20 per cent," he said.

But while the handful of cleaners interviewed look forward to higher pay, at least one person is worried about the impact of rising cleaning costs.

Mr Goh Ak Kee, chairman of the Bedok North Block 216 food centre and market hawker's association that represents 82 stalls, said monthly cleaning costs at the hawker centre have gone up by $30 this month.

The stall owners agreed not to pass the costs on to consumers this time round.

"But if cleaning costs keep going up, the stall owners will have no choice but to increase prices to cover the higher costs because they are also running businesses," he said.