Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill(Bill No. 31/2020)
Some background on this speech:
Sir, I love it when I bring my three daughters out by myself and have some Daddy-Daughters time while Mummy takes a break. It is precious quality time, which I wish I have more of.
I’m glad to share that I no longer need to change nappies. They are big girls now and use the toilet. That is of course absolutely good news but also absolutely bad news at times.
Every time they say the words, “Daddy I need to wee wee”, it sparks a mad crazy frantic race to find a toilet. Not just any toilet but a male toilet, which has clean seats, which my daughters can sit on.
That, unfortunately, is a hard thing to find, especially in coffee shops and hawker centres. The reality is that many of our public toilets stink. And I’m not just talking about the smell. Often, seats are covered in urine and the entire facility is unhygienic.
Sir, my daughters and I are extremely supportive of this Bill.
This is a public health issue that we all need to tackle. It is also not just about toilets but about also maintaining cleanliness in premises with high footfall and immuno-vulnerable occupants.
Sir, the GPC for Sustainability and the Environment strongly supports this Bill as well.
The GPC members will share different perspectives on how we can raise our public hygiene standards. Together, our speeches will articulate four key proposals.
First, the GPC proposes that we implement a grading system to measure the cleanliness of public toilets and incentivise operators by linking these grades to license renewal or tax rebates.
Second, the GPC proposes that the Ministry reviews and considers expanding the scope of premises covered by this Bill.
Third, the GPC proposes that cleaners be trained in suitable languages and formats, and be treated with fair labour practices.
Fourth, The GPC hopes that the proposed amendments will not result in an increase in the cost of living.
Sir, we all have a stake in public hygiene and the GPC has reached out to the public through social media for their feedback on this Bill. We will be raising some of the public’s concerns in our speeches.
I personally have four points to make.
Implement grading system for cleanliness for public toilets
First, I propose we introduce a grading system for cleanliness at specified premises, starting with public toilets at coffee shops and hawker centres.
A grading system will help increase hygiene standards in public toilet. These standards have fallen in recent years, according to an SMU survey aptly named “Waterloo”. Over 25% of the 6,000 respondents said they would not use the toilets in coffee shops and hawker centres.
Our GPC’s own public consultation received many comments about bad experiences at such toilets.
One commenter, Mr. Tan, said, “Many of our friends have said they rather hold their tummies than to let it out in the kopitiam toilet.”
But the problem affects us even if we avoid using the toilets. As Mr. Jack Sim, Founder and CEO of the World Toilet Organisation said, “Remember that even if you don’t use these dirty toilets, the cooks who prepare your food are using them. If there is no soap to wash their hands, you may be eating their dirt”.
This is a very unpleasant thought but a very real possibility that we need to remember.
Sir, I believe a grading system for cleanliness will help. It can be similar to the Singapore Food Agency’s Food Hygiene Recognition Scheme. Under that scheme, food establishments are rated for their hygiene and must prominently display the grade (A, B, C, or under the new system, Gold, Silver or Bronze) they receive.
This provides an objective measure for the general public to determine the level of cleanliness of a food establishment. They can use this information to decide whether to purchase from a food establishment.
For a start, will the Ministry consider implementing a similar grading system for public toilets at coffee shops and hawker centres?
A visible, objective benchmark gives operators something to strive towards and could help promote higher standards.
Linking the grading system to the licensing duration and fees of premises
My second proposal builds on our idea of a grading system.
Will the Minister consider linking the grading system to the licensing duration and licensing fees of coffee shops and hawker centres?
For instance, we could offer a slightly longer license term or lower license fees for coffee shops and hawker centres that attain and maintain a certain minimum cleanliness grade.
This provides incentives for premises that have done well, to keep up the good work, and for premises that have not done so well, to raise their standards.
In their speeches, other members of the GPC – Ms. Poh Li San, Mr. Gan Thiam Poh and Ms. Cheryl Chan – will also be sharing their views on a grading system and other incentives for maintaining public toilet cleanliness.
Ensuring multilingual courses for ECCs and ECOs
My third proposal is about training.
I understand that Environmental Control Coordinators (ECCs) and Environmental Control Officers (ECOs) of specified premises will have to undergo training to be registered with NEA.
But I am concerned that their training will not be conducted in suitable languages or formats.
Take, for example, an existing course offered by Singapore Polytechnic for ECOs in the construction sector. It is conducted entirely in English and requires participants to answer 100 questions in a two-hour electronic exam.
Many ECCs and ECOs in the cleaning industry are seniors and would likely struggle with the language requirement and the electronic test-taking component.
Can Minister share if such courses for ECCs and ECOs in the cleaning industry will be conducted in more languages and more accessible formats?
It will help operators meet these new requirements without having to replace their existing staff.
Let us not allow language barriers and teaching formats get in the way of cleanliness and safety.
In their speeches, Mr. Don Wee and Ms. Nadia Samdin will also be speaking on grants to support cleaners in undergoing training courses and career development for our cleaners.
Raising labour standards in the cleaning industry
My last point is about labour conditions.
Let’s remember that higher hygiene standards also means more work for our cleaners.
Many are already struggling. Madam Low, a 67-year-old cleaner, told the media that she cleans the toilets four to five times during each of her 12-hour shifts.
She said, “Just an hour after I finish cleaning, I come back to find unflushed toilets, water pooling around the basins, and sometimes puddles of urine on the floor.”
One respondent to our public consultation also raised fair questions. He asked, “Wouldn’t improving cleanliness at these places require more labour? How do we know that this won’t add to the gruelling work that cleaners already have to do? How is the government going to ensure safe and sustainable labour standards with added labour?”
Can Minister share how we intend to ensure that cleaners are treated with fair labour practices?
I propose we start by raising the employment standards required of cleaning companies under the Enhanced Clean Mark Accreditation scheme.
Specifically, let us require that companies provide cleaners (whether foreign or local) with sufficient breaks and rest days without reducing their take-home salary.
Our increased hygiene standards can be sustainable only if cleaners are well rested and adequately paid. Let’s ensure they are.
Sir, I hope Minister can consider the proposals raised by the GPC.
Ultimately, the GPC believes that public hygiene is everyone’s personal responsibility and we need to go upstream to solve this problem.
While this Bill will help, we urge all Singaporeans to move away from the mindset that cleaners will be there to clean up after us.
We should be a “Clean Singapore”, not a “Cleaned Singapore”.
Notwithstanding our clarifications, the GPC for Sustainability and the Environment stands in strong support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response here