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. 1/2023)
Sir, the amendments in this Bill will facilitate enforcement against high-rise littering, hold cleaning businesses to higher governance standards under the cleaning business licensing framework and extend the Progressive Wage Model for workers in the cleaning and waste disposal sector. It is a Bill that is a step in the right direction and one I wholeheartedly support. It will address a lot of the high-rise littering issues we all see on the ground and very importantly, it will uplift our workers in the cleaning and waste disposal sector.
That said, I just have three points of clarification to raise.
Extending PWM to all
My first point is on the Progressive Wage Model. The new section 23A introduces powers to impose conditions on the payment of progressive wages to Singaporean and PR holder waste disposal workers. But what about our migrant workers? PWM is also about improving productivity, which will improve business profits for employers and service buyers also enjoy better service standards and quality. But all these cannot happen if the bulk of the workforce is not getting the PWM.
Both our local and migrant workforce deserve to earn fair and liveable wages. I shared in this House previously about how I have seen first-hand the sacrifices that our migrant cleaners make to keep our homes clean.
In 2019, I visited Bangladesh and invited all our Nee Soon East cleaners’ families to lunch in Dhaka. We arranged for them to do a video call with their loved ones in Singapore. It was heartbreaking to see them cry as they spoke to their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. It was even more heartbreaking that I was meeting many of our cleaners’ children even before their fathers even met them.
I met the daughter, Jannath, of one of our cleaners, Mazibur. She was seven years old and had never met her father before. I felt bad that Mazibur’s daughter met me before meeting her father. As a father, I cannot imagine not being not being there for my daughters’ first words, first steps and many other firsts in their lives.
I am not asking for more for our migrant workers. I am asking that we be fair to our migrant workers too.
In 2018, I spoke on the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill on the need to ensure that the PWM will apply to cleaners who are hired directly by an F&B establishment and for foreign cleaners. I am glad that we are now ensuring that cleaners who are hired directly by an F&B establishment will get the PWM, but again, what about our migrant cleaners?
In 2020, I spoke on the Building Control (Amendment) Bill on ensuring that the PWM will apply to our foreign lift technicians as well.
As a matter of fairness, it makes sense for the PWM to apply to all our workers. In the spirit of increasing productivity and better service standards and quality, it also makes sense for PWM to apply to all our workers. I hope Ministry for Sustainability and Environment (MSE) will consider eventually extending the PWM to cover our migrant cleaners and waste disposal workers as well.
Raise standards for office holders of Class 1 licence businesses
My second point is on the conditions under the new cleaning business licensing framework. The framework will introduce three classes of licences. A Class 1 licence will require businesses to have a paid-up capital of $250,000 and a clean record with no conviction history in the past 24 months. Can Minister share if the Class 1 licence will also require that no stern warnings or a composition fine was issued against the company? If not, can Minister share the reasons why not?
In addition, a company acts through the hands and minds of its directors and executive officers. There may be cases where prosecutorial direction was exercised not to pursue charges against the company but prosecution was brought against a company’s directors and/or executive officers. There is public interest in ensuring that the directors and executive officers are personally incentivised to comply with the law. Can the Senior Minister of State share if the Ministry will consider also requiring for a Class 1 licence that the directors and executive officers have no conviction history with regard to offences related to the company in the past 24 months? If not, can the Senior Minister of State share the reasons why not?
Apply presumption of littering to secondhand smoke
My final point is one I am sure Senior Minister of State Amy Khor expects me to raise and so I do not want to disappoint her. I also know that so many Singaporeans are affected by second-hand smoke and they hope the Government will help them and literally save their lives. It is not a neighbourly dispute, it is not about being uncomfortable with smelling second-hand smoke and it is not a problem you can adapt to and live with. It is about how second-hand smoke kills and people are trapped and need us to rescue them.
I am glad we are doing so much to tackle high-rise littering. It is a huge problem on the ground and the amendments in this Bill will help significantly. What I propose we do is extend the presumption introduced for high-rise littering to smoking in flats that affect other residents. The new section 17A will introduce a presumption clause that the litter proven to be thrown from a flat was thrown by every owner or tenant of the flat. The introduction of this presumption is recognition of the public interest in catching and deterring high-rise littering given the evidential difficulties and enforcement costs in having to prove who threw the litter out of a flat.
A problem that poses similar enforcement difficulties and costs is second-hand smoke in flats. Second-hand smoke is just as deadly, or perhaps even more than high-rise littering and equally needs our urgent attention.
On 10 January, Ms Tham wrote to Senior Minister of State Amy Khor and copied me in the email. She shared, “I was delighted to read about the statutory presumption clause for high-rise littering, aimed to place greater onus on flat owners and tenants to prevent littering. Initially I wondered how NEA could prove the littering, then I found out about the surveillance cameras (though, as I understand it, the main effect is achieved through greater deterrence than the presumption clause). I would like to ask whether these two measures (surveillance and deterrence) could be applied towards banning smoking in balconies. I understand the key issue was around not being able to prove the culprit was smoking, but if there were surveillance cameras, would this not be possible? To be honest, merely making it illegal would be a great help, plus the suggestion that surveillance might catch them in the act.”
“This is my story” – that Ms Tham shared: “I have an upstairs neighbour who smokes several times a day. The smoke wafts down, even if we close all our windows and doors. We’ve tried appealing to him (and his landlord). We’ve asked him to alert us in advance when he is about to smoke, or smoke at designated times so that we can close our windows and doors in advance. However, he refused to do so and the response we got from him and his landlord was that ‘it is not illegal’ for him to smoke in the balcony.
“My father-in-law passed away in 2021 from nose cancer, despite not being a smoker. Both his elder brothers passed away from nose cancer. His sister passed away from lung cancer. This is why my husband and I are highly concerned about second-hand smoke.”
Sir, I hope we can put ourselves in Ms Tham’s shoes and imagine her helplessness to protect her family from the silent killer that is second-hand smoke. Her story is one that would be familiar to many Singaporeans and Members of this house.
I know I sound like a broken record but I hope the Ministry will study this issue much further and consider whether a similar presumption clause may help to address the problem of second-hand smoke in flats. Sir, notwithstanding these points, I stand in strong support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.