Monday, April 07, 2008

Elderly Cleaners in Singapore

(Refer to ST Forum letter below)
During the last elections, while campaigning PM Lee saw an 80 year old woman still working hard for a living, his response was one of delight that old folks here are working......wonderful!! Instead of wasting their time idling at home or looking after grandchildren, it is best to have our old folks working. Self-help is the best, our govt has often told us. We should be prepared to work longer and harder. Singapore govt cannot afford to give welfare or public assistance that is sufficient for more than 2 meals a day. For people reading my blog, this is the heart of the issue - if the elderly who have to clean toilets for a living die without seeing benefits of the wealth our society has generated, who benefits from this wealth?

Many our elites are hired into GIC & Temasek to manage this money that technically belongs to the people of Singapore. While they are unable to help our elderly who work to support themselves, the govt is able to invest in troubled banks and losing a few billion here and there. You might think that in your time of sickness and poverty, this wealth to which you have contributed is there to take away some of the financial pain........but lets get real here, helping Singaporeans is a waste of money when you can use the money to invest for higher returns e.g. Citibank, UBS, Shin Corp. Giving money to the elderly will result in a crutch mentality and undermine their work ethics. Our govt is able to create numerous cleaning jobs for them anyway so let them not be a burden to the state. The same amount of money can be used as scholarship for foreign students - although many use Singapore as a stepping stone and don't even bother to serve out their 3 year obligation to work here, we shouldn't be too small minded about that. If not scholarship for foreigners, there are other areas to spend the money - govt sponsored research, defense, troubled western banks, telcos in Thailand....etc. Spending money to help elderly Singaporeans ranks very low on the list of priorities. We should all be happy to have a govt that has plenty of good ideas on what to do with taxpayers' money.
ST Forum 4 April 2008
Elderly toilet cleaners a sad reflection of society here

Recently, I was at a toilet in a shopping centre when I noticed an elderly woman with a bent and crooked back trying to clean the floor while fashionable young women applied their lipsticks and checked their hairdos in the mirror.

I find this scene to be a sad reflection of society here, one that is played out daily in numerous shopping centres.

During the course of my travels through China, from rural Yunnan to cosmopolitan Shanghai, I never once encountered an elderly toilet cleaner. This is perhaps because in China, it is considered a stain on the family honour if your mother, grandmother or aunt has to clean toilets to support herself, so the elderly are usually supported by the family network.
The situation is the same in the Philippines.
Singapore seems unique in having the highest density of elderly toilet cleaners in the world, surely not an accolade to be proud of.
Although cleaning toilets is easy to learn, it is far from pleasant, given the bad toilet habits of Singaporeans.
Besides this, it is a job that may be hazardous for the elderly, who are more likely to suffer serious fractures should they slip on the wet toilet floor.

To resolve this situation, perhaps the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Manpower can work together to consider the following suggestions:

  • Survey these elderly cleaners to find out more about their financial and social situation, to see what sort of aid can be provided.
  • Devise incentives for the proprietors of food outlets, supermarkets and childcare centres to employ these elderly folk in the preparation or packing of food instead.
  • Increase the wages of toilet cleaners as unpleasant jobs should command a higher wage so that younger people would want to take them up.
  • Allow foreign workers to do the job.

Encourage students in schools to empathise with toilet cleaners and practise good toilet habits by periodically making them clean school toilets.
Dr Anne Chong Su Yan


yamizi said...

"given the bad toilet habits of Singaporeans" <---- nice =)

But then again, how much would her suggestions be get through?

Anonymous said...

I go for tours every year and been all over Asia, Europe and the States.

What I can say is the part about Singapore having the "highest number of elderly cleaners in the world" is probably true. It is shameful when we see our govt throwing money all over the world, when elderly citizens have to suffer the indignity of struggling for a living washing toilets. This is more than just sad it is downright SHAMEFUL.

What good is spanking new IR, classy Esplanade, etc when anyone visit the toilets of these beautiful shiny-impress-the-tourists-like-hell buildings, they get a shock when they see an elder person who should be retired cleaning the toilet.

This is our SHAME - not amount of money the government can show off by dumping in foreign investments can wash away this SHAME.

irgen said...

When will this saga ends?

We seniors are all doing this shit work while billions are invested in Shin Corps, crumbling banks USB, Citicorps and Merill Lynch.

Lucky, please tell us where do all the money that GIC and Temasek invested come from? They can afford to lose billions while we have to work to make ends meet.

According to CNA, the Minister of State for Community Deveopment, Youth and Sports Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon said they are ready to help the lower income group and that those who need help can call the ComCare helpline (1800-COMCARE)launched last year.

For goodness sake, how are we going to call them on this number -1800-COMCARE. Don't they have a numeric no. instead of letters to call!

Tell us senior citizens how to call them 1800-COMCARE.

It's one hurdle after another, no wonder those who are over 80 still slog for a couple of meals per day. We just don't know how to call for help!

Anonymous said...

The PM was/is happy to see very old people slogging away in the lowly jobs as toilet cleaners. Does he not understand that old people living in poverty and afflicted with health problems - both seen and unseen - is nothing but pure suffering?

They do not have the luxury like him to afford the best healthcare. Instead of being looked after by the state, they are forced to work for a few hundred dollars to keep themselves alive.

I am sure the PM had suffered much during his cancer days but it appears that all that has been forgotten and not reflected in his thinking/policies.

Life or Providence gave him a 2nd chance but he is not using it in the right way. This is most regrettable.

There is a common humanity, a humanness that both the theist, atheist and even the agnostic subscribe to instinctively.

A government paid the highest in the world yet refuses to look after its own people; this is against one's sense of humanity. It is condemnable.

Anonymous said...


"how are we going to call them on this number -1800-COMCARE"

You don't know meh. The PAP way is to make it difficult and humiliating to find help so that you're better off jumping on to the MRT track than to go to them for help.

If they are serious in giving help all they need to go is GO TO THE TOILETS....and they will find these people to help.

Anonymous said...

Uniquely Singapore.

World Class in Everything:
Elderly cleaning toilets
Living on 2 meals per day
Highest paid Minister in the World

What's more can I say.

21st dec 2012 said...

Anon @ 7.19pm,

It SHOULD be "UniqueLEE" Singapore. This is coined by lucky in one of his earlier articles.

21st dec 2012 said...

Oh wait a minute...
It should be this one - "You need LEE" Singapore

Anonymous said...

really envy the elderly japanese folk doing and enjoying their paintings on cherry blossoms on the public streets.... it will only be a make-believe dream at 70 while the real harsh world here at 70 is to push & doing e sweating on the cleaning tables & toilets.

Anonymous said...

again i want to draw parallel to the greatest leader in our contemporary world: the ever great leader GW Bush.

"I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

you see MM Lee may also be excited, and in some way, think that it's romantic, in some way, you know, being useful at such an old age, just like he still is.

They are really making history, you know, and thanks.

Capt_Canuck said...

Why not look at it from Lee's perspective. He is old, he is retirement age, he is still working. So, if he, a lowly humble man who has helped give Singapore the power that they have now, is still toiling away at the grindstone, why shouldn't other elderly his age? Granted, his job is slightly different than a toilet cleaner or drink auntie in that he is paid millions, eats lavish meals, travels to exotic locations and just pushes paper whereas the others are paid peanuts, eat 2 meals a day, travel by crowded MRT and the only paper the toilet cleaners see is the toilet paper they clean up. The only fault is those that chose the wrong profession. They should have picked politics over other jobs.

Though, anyone else shaking their head over the latest head line "Government to spend S$1b on next generation broadband"? The gov't can find $1billion dollars to spend on increasing broadband power and speed, but can't find money to help the poor? I feel bad for the Singapoor.

Anonymous said...

Actually Singapore's problem is also the world's problem but not detected as such.

The Western media used to criticize PAP strongly for its lack of democracy. Apparently things have changed some 15 years ago. A pact between PAP and the US govt must have been reached, one that included stopping its press from vitriolic attacks on PAP.

The danger PAP's doctrine poses to the world is not communism, anti-Westernism, anti-modernism and other recognised ideologies.

You see the fact that MM Lee and his ministers are being well received around the world shows that other countries do not understand that they are insidiously being sold a misleading story.

The other nations see Singapore as a true democracy and also a great success in many ways.

If these nations especially the emerging ones try to copy PAP's system, they will end up in big trouble.

The PAP system is a hegemony that passes for democracy. The issues involved are many and have been addressed in this blog and others BUT are largely unknown to the people of other nations that PAP goes around propagandizing to.

PAP system is a modern feudal disguised as democracy. It is dangerous to the free world, to the self-determination of people everywhere. It is a throwback to the past.

Many politicians including those in democracies have been hook-winked by the PAP leadership. Only informed Singaporeans know what is going on.

Anonymous said...

From our Million $ MP..sigh:

...But wealthy people might face health woes more easily because of the rich foods they consume.

Anonymous said...

$1 million to help the poor cope with inflation but $1 billion to spend on next generation broadband. You can see and understand their thinking just from this gesture alone. Everything is theirs to spend on but not in improving the lives of the poorer Singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

When GLCs like those of Temasek Holdings need revenues, all the PAP govt has to do is to throw out some unneeded $multi-million or even $multi-billion projects for them to bid.

This was what happened in the case of EZLink system, a S$300 million project which was taken up by the company ERG Transit Systems.

That company ERG is actually part-owned by Temasek companies, with Motorola as the front. Months after installing the buggy system, ERG went bust or rather purposely went bust.

The current broadband network will likely to be given to GLCs, particularly Temasek companies. This will help Temasek make up for the $multi-billion losses it incurred from the bad Shin Corp, Merrill Lynch and Barclays investments.

In other words, PAP will use the people's money to help Temasek companies and other GLCs to make up for their incompetence.

What's wrong with that? After all they are govt companies, so it is just passing govt money from one hand to another. Yeah, it is so simple and the questioner walks away scratching his head and wonder where he got it wrong.

Nothing is wrong in Singapore. Everything is perfectly logical. Except that you will see more and more poor people around.

Lee Kuan Yew used to say "No free lunch". He meant it for the masses not his elites.

Anonymous said...

It is sad the things that our MM Lee and PM Lee celebrates. 80 year olds scounging around for cardboards to eke a living. Also stay at home moms are clearly a no-no, while working women who keep their kids at child care are feted by our politicians. Some things are clearly wrong here.

Anonymous said...

you people should move beyond just helping the 'poor' - the pap has the resources to help IF they mean what they say of course

many of these poor( living hand to mouth cases) were one time from the the middle class before we rived up our economy.

will today's middle class be tomorrow's poor?

the way things are going, my bet is that the same will recur and maybe even be worse - for this country?

Anonymous said...

Utterly and devastatingly depressing that we treat our old folk like this.

Singaporeans only have themselves to blame for the government they've elected.

Aidil Omar said...

Aww. It's not so bad. You see when the ministers are out of jobs and one foot in the grave, they are at the most desirable position to work as cleaners.

It would be the best toilets the world have ever seen!

Anonymous said...

i thought elderly people shouldnt be cleaning toilets, does the elderly people have a choice in their job selection?no i dun think so, why does the government open job vancancy as a cleaner for the elderly, he keeps saying no one will be left behind, yup true but do they know most of them are suffering? if you were in their shoe, would u like to clean toilet? in chinese there is a saying that the elderly people are a treasure in the society/family. well yup in the toilet ! CANT WAIT TO leave singapore

Anonymous said...

these days..did u notice many young china gals r cleaning toilets & bins... many are "conned" to come here on "good belief" of better jobs prospects and end up signing 3 years contracts with agencies to be cleaners on ridiculously lower pay than what elderly cleaners are getting. some of them have respectable diplomas or college level certificates and regret signing contracts for that $ and cant wait to return.

Anonymous said...

what to do? it's happened...

Anonymous said...

For info, it is not even our elites that are hired into GIC & Temasek now. It is the foreign elites.

Anonymous said...

Those foreigners who are complacent to check up the real Singapore before coming here to work, study and reside have to blame themselves for complacence.

And they were conned not by complacence per se but by conmen!


Anonymous said...

$1 billion for the boardband netwwork without a blink of an eye.

$1 pathetic million to help the poor, they kaw pay kaw bu.

See our compassionate and generous our MIW are.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, the Government is clearly reluctant to help the elderly poor and thus they have to continue working. They are prepared to throw money into HDB upgrading, broadband upgrading and saving failing foreign banks, but not on the elderly and poor.

Secondly, the choice of jobs are really limited, besides cleaning jobs, what else could the elderly do? They are not technologically inclined and are basically slower and weaker, so they cannot compete with younger people in most other jobs. There is even talk by non other than our NTUC chiefs some time back of reserving these jobs for the elderly. What a noble gesture!

Thirdly, the Government does not want people to go to them for help. But they know that the majority of the elderly of that past generation are relatively poor and without CPF or savings to fall on. So, the only way out is to "force" them to work longer and longer to feed themselves and free the Government from a liability.

So, those who are older had better be prepared not to expect too much from this Government in terms of help. Not now, not in future, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

S$1 billion for broadband network using taxpayers' money and yet there were at one time S'poreans at ST forum messageboard saying "Gimme, gimme that" as though it is gonna be free for them all the way. Free lunch only meant for the elite not the ordinary people.

The network gonna help Singtel a Temasek company. Instead of Singtel, the telco infrastructure provider footing the bill for this network, PAP is making the people pay for it, to help Singtel and hence Temasek and of course Ho Ching, Lee Hsien Loong beloved wife and most powerful woman in Asia. My foot.

The people are therefore slaving to feed these elites. The elites do not have to perform because they is a safety net for them, using sweat of the people.

This is how the PAP system works in Singapore.

It is a runaway train and nobody in PAP has the gumption to pull the brakes because it will disintegrate the PAP system.

Anonymous said...

Sin, Sinner, Sinnerpore and Sinnerporeans!


Lee Chin Suay said...

It is rubbish to say Singaporean mistreat their elderly population, the government with their undoubted foresight has seen the ill-effect of the erosion of Asian values, it was Prof Walter Woon, who proposed we stem the depravity of Western ideals, an thus came about the Maintenance of Parent Act, richly rewarded he is, many time he serve as ambassador for our country, tomorrow he takes on the role of Attorney General.

I can only presume with our adequate welfare scheme, and legal safety nets, these senior citizen acted out of boredom and with a overwhelming sense of remaining productive up till the very last day of their lives.

Anonymous said...

For the PAP to really touch base with these old folks, they will have to roll up their sleeves and spend a day - just one day - as a toilet cleaner, cleaner hawker centre cleaner.

It's so easy just to talk behind their million dollar salaries of PUBLIC money and say they understand and feel for these old folks and 2 meals a day is sufficient. Talk is just so easy.

Anonymous said...

this the first time i in this blog.i surprise singapore have this site.its great!is the government body reading these too.voices from the people.

i am touch there is still many kind hearted people around here.

the govenment is to blaim.

Keep this site alive and going i going tell my own kids this story and to respect the eldely when they join the society and tell them how "good" our govenment are doing.

Hope to do well in studies and write about our country story in paper and book to be read by people all over the world.the true story of our No:1 country the world have seen.

poor elderly cleaners my highest respect to you all.

I aplogised to you all too for our govenment did not offer help and assistant.

Anonymous said...

What is so shameful about elderly folks working as toilet cleaners to earn a living? Is it better if the poor live on welfare payouts?

Singapore is certainly not the most generous nation with its welfare benefits, but she doesn't let you die too.

I think forcing the poor to work harder is not that bad a thing. It garners more respect than living on welfare benefits.

Anonymous said...

To anon 3.50pm:
me wonders would you say the same thing if your parents/grandparents are cleaners. Please be honest with yourself.

I gather that you may even feel shameful, not of them but of yourself.

Yours truly:


Anonymous said...

I agree with Patriot 4.58pm.

When it is not our own parents/grandparents we never understand the 'shame'. But why mention 'shame' when what we are talking about is the unease and sadness of seeing these old folks struggling with their cleaning jobs.

The whole issue is not about whether the elderly working as cleaners is less shameful than living on welfare payouts. The issue is more about why the Government is willing to throw hundreds of millions into HDB upgrading, a billion into upgrading broadband and tens of billions into saving failing foreign banks while at the same time unwilling to do a little more to help the elderly poor.

James said...

singapore is a horrible country to the poor.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:50 is spouting rubbish all the way.

See what he/she wrote:

- 'What is so shameful about elderly folks working as toilet cleaners to earn a living?'
Answer: Try that yourself before talking.

- 'Is it better if the poor live on welfare payouts?'
Answer: Why not? You mean you prefer to work as toilet cleaner to getting welfare payouts? Hypocrite you are!

- 'Singapore is certainly not the most generous nation with its welfare benefits, but she doesn't let you die too.'
Answer: Yeah, you must see this country come to that with people dying in the streets before you can say it is all wrong. But by then you will change your story again and say it is the people's fault and that kind of rubbish.

- I think forcing the poor to work harder is not that bad a thing.
Answer: You talk like Lee Hsien Loong but you are nowhere in the position like him. Yet you want to parrot what that PM who weakly follows the dictates of his soulless father. What are you, just a running dog of PAP living in the comfort of its lap?

- It garners more respect than living on welfare benefits.
Answer: Again go and be toilet cleaner and come back to tell us if you have gain more self-respect. Shut up if you don't mean it at all.

Anonymous said...

How tempting it is to continue working at an old age if you're drawing close to $3 million, well-fed and well-travelled. Anyone'd love to continue working into his/her 70s, 80s or even 90s if he/she were to draw that kind of salary.
That same person who is excited to see elderly people working as toilet cleaners should be working as one before making all those remarks. Maybe then, he'd long for retirement from smelly toilets and having more than two meals a day.

Anonymous said...

Come on PAP! Use more compassion in your policy-making for the elderly poor. Although I've no qualms about your spending billions on upgrading the IT infrastructure, building the IR or investing in fallen foreign banks, as these are wise far-sighted policies that will reap rewards in future, no doubt, but hey, DO NOT stinge on the ELDERLY POOR!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the agreemetents that are presented here. Often the goverment would rather use the money to build certain shelter, unnecessarily add in fences and renovate the carperk which are in good conditions. For examples, Kovan Hougang Avenue 1 has recently been in the upgrading programn and there are many unnecessary changes made to the community.

I would rather see these money to go to the poor elderly who are working as toilet cleaners or food court cleaners. It is rather hard to survive for 2 meals a day. Furthermore with such a high standard of living it worsen their ability to survive

The Goverment will often help by using mouth abilities. I hardly see any effort being made to these people. I hope that this situation will improve as Singapore is having an aging population and elderly will eventually be there assets instead of burden

Anonymous said...

Retired somewhere else....cheaper and Sing$ higher.

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delta said...

i can't say more than agree. pls help elderly cleaners in Singapore. you/we may not help them financial but you/we can help them by practising good toilet habits to lighten their work load. May God bless them today and always!

Anonymous said...

Well I am wondering about the elderly workers' children. is it really a case of blame all on the government or partial? Why aren't the children supporting these old folks?

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