A cou­ple of weeks back I was invited to speak on a panel dis­cussing a Clean & Green Sin­ga­pore. I said agreed because I had always wanted to meet Siva­sothi, one of Singapore’s lead­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ists. We’ve known of each other since the term “blog” was invented, but for rea­sons unin­ves­ti­gated, we had never actu­ally met.

The dis­cus­sion panel took its pre­dicted path down gov­ern­men­tal mea­sures lane and civic mind­ed­ness alley and it was only when Siva spoke about what he did to the stu­dents he taught at NUS that I really began lis­ten­ing (sorry NEA, rest of panel — it was one of those days I was triple-booked).

Siva, who later shared my regret that we weren’t as enter­tain­ing and fiery as we should have been, has this fab­u­lous require­ment of his stu­dents. They are required to put their chairs back in place after a lec­ture has con­cluded. And — this will blow your socks off if you weren’t wear­ing slip­pers like the sloppy Sin­ga­porean you are — he makes his stu­dents find out the name of the cleaner who cleans the areas in and around the lec­ture theatres!

Then I started think­ing about what had been spo­ken ear­lier in the dis­cus­sion: that Sin­ga­pore is not a clean city — it is a cleaned city. We don’t see, and neglect to care about the dusk to dawn army of clean­ing work­ers who pick up our garbage in the streets and parks at night.

I’ve men­tioned how we del­e­gate our per­sonal respon­si­bil­i­ties to so many peo­ple that we’ve for­got­ten we have these respon­si­bil­i­ties. Not only do we not know who takes away our trash, we don’t even take out our own trash.

Ear­lier in the week, I left for work at the same time the guy from the clean­ing com­pany was mop­ping the floor at our lift lobby. I said good morn­ing and he jumped out of his skin. I decided not to star­tle him fur­ther, and will ask for his name next time we meet.

At a meet­ing a fort­night ago, a bunch of young entre­pre­neurs was telling us about the dis­par­ity between the clean­ing company’s con­tract fee and the actual salary of the per­son actu­ally doing the job. Yes, there are clean­ers who are get­ting paid $800 a month or less.

It’s a lot more com­pli­cated than just say­ing ‘yes, we need to pay the clean­ers more’,  and the tyranny of mod­ern eco­nomic con­ve­niences will mean that busi­ness own­ers will still want to engage a clean­ing com­pany than to employ a cleaner directly.

It fol­lows that some­thing needs to be done about the peo­ple who are directly employ­ing the clean­ers. And appar­ently, some­thing that will pay them more than a manda­tory min­i­mum wage, like the pro­gres­sive wage model I wrote about ear­lier will come into being next year. Here’s hop­ing it works out well.

But as I was say­ing on that panel that evening, if you want a more car­ing, com­pas­sion­ate soci­ety, you have to start think­ing of the con­se­quences of every action. There are things within your means you can do to help low wage work­ers like cleaners.

You want to care about the clean­ers who are paid lit­tle? Make their job eas­ier. Pick up after your­selves, return your tray, push your chair back after you get up.

I sit on the man­age­ment coun­cil of the condo we live in, and I went on a lit­tle power trip at a meet­ing last week. The secu­rity guard com­pany we hire had requested for a fee increase. I voted ok as long as we know that the two guards, who look after our premises and make sure no idiots any­howly park in our car park, have a com­men­su­rate pay increase as well. We even voted on a lit­tle thing — mak­ing sure there’s enough mos­quito repel­lent in the guard house so they don’t kenah dengue.

I’ve just found out that what we were doing was this thing called “best-sourcing”, which is gah­men–speak for out­sourc­ing in a con­scious, con­sci­en­tious and socially respon­si­ble way. And like many things about this fine coun­try, there’s even a mon­e­tary incen­tive to do so.

But as we become increas­ingly out-sourcery, we must not let our­selves or our cor­po­ra­tions out­source our social responsibilities.

I think it’s time I called another coun­cil meeting.

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  • Ian Goon

    Cru­cial mes­sage to spread! Less me, more us. What a won­der­ful coun­try it will be!

  • Michael Bian

    Thank you for shar­ing this one.

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