Clean Tables Support Scheme 'won't cost cleaners their jobs'
New scheme will benefit over 1,000 coffee shops and 200 foodcourts and lighten load for cleaners: Amy Khor
His job to clear trays and clean tables six days a week has taken a toll on him, but a new funding support scheme to encourage more eating places to install tray-return facilities may help lighten his workload.
Mr Chng Tiong Sun, 72, a cleaner at Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub, told The New Paper yesterday: "This will make things easier (as we will have) more time to wipe and properly sanitise the tables."
Launched by the National Environment Agency on April 16, the Clean Tables Support Scheme will benefit about 1,125 coffee shops and 220 foodcourts here.
The scheme is part of the Clean Tables Campaign, which has been under way since February. It aims to remind users and stakeholders of public dining places to keep the tables clean for the next diner.
In a Facebook post on April 17, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said she hopes these initiatives will encourage operators to keep their dining environment clean and make it easier for diners to return used trays and crockery.
"I would like to reassure everyone that cleaning up after ourselves will not cause cleaners to lose their jobs," Dr Khor wrote.
"With our ageing cleaning workforce, doing so will actually make their jobs less laborious, and hopefully encourage others to join the profession or even stay on the job to mitigate the labour crunch," she added.
When TNP visited Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub at lunchtime yesterday, most diners did not use the tray-return facilities even though they were accessible and visible.
Mr Chng, who works four hours a day and earns about $700 a month, said it is common to see plates and trays left on dirty tables.
"Only about a third of diners will return their trays. Even if there are more (tray-return facilities), I am not sure if they will take the initiative to clear up after themselves," he said.
Mr Chen Ling Dong, 40, a cleaner at Food Park in Tampines Street 81, agreed. He says it is not common practice for diners to return their trays.
"To them, there are no benefits for clearing their trays. So they leave it to us," he said.
But other cleaners TNP spoke to said the issue is down to a lack of manpower rather than getting diners to inculcate the habit of returning trays.
Madam Toh Hong Min, a coffee shop cleaner at Block 203 Toa Payoh North, said: "Almost everyone here clears their trays. But there are only two cleaners during lunch hour and sometimes, it is only me."
She added that she struggles clearing plates at the tray-return area as they pile up quickly.
One diner at Kovan 209 Market and Food Centre, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Ms K. Chan, said a cleaner had once chided her for clearing her tray at Whampoa Food Centre.
"I was shocked, but I think the cleaner was afraid she'd lose her job.
"I still feel it is the right thing to clear up after ourselves. This gives cleaners less pressure and more time to return plates to stalls," said the 56-year-old.
Ms Jamie How, 30, of One Heart Cleaning, which hires cleaners for Tekka Centre, said having more tray-returning facilities would not lead to a manpower cut in the cleaning industry.
"In fact, we are still hiring cleaners. The work they do is tough, so this scheme will make things easier, not take away their jobs," she added.
Mr Edward D'Silva, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, said funding support alone may not be sufficient to change diners' behaviour.
Operators must also consider improving the physical layout and location of the tray-return stations to enhance visibility.
He added that some form of legislation should be explored to ensure operators also commit to higher standards.
Clean tables support scheme
- Coffee shop and hawker centre operators may apply for funding from May 1, which will cover the cost of installing tray-return facilities such as racks and trolleys.
- NEA will co-fund purchases made between May 1 and Oct 31 this year, and coffee shops and hawker centres can be supported for up to 50 per cent of the costs they incur, capped at $2,500 per premise.
- NEA will install 75 more tray-return racks to the 114 hawker centres it manages, on top of the 900 racks that are currently in place.