CLOSING SPEECH BY DR AMY KHOR, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, FOR THE SECOND READING OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PUBLIC HEALTH (AMENDMENT) BILL ON 6 FEBRUARY 2023
1 Mr Speaker, I thank Members for their support of the Bill. The thoughtful and passionate comments and suggestions reflect the high regard we place on public health and maintaining high standards of public cleanliness and sanitation. Let me address these comments.
PROGRESSIVE WAGE MODEL FOR THE WASTE MANAGEMENT AND CLEANING SECTORS
2 First, on the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for the waste management sector.
3 Several Members have spoken in support of the need to uplift our lower wage workers. We are introducing the PWM to support our resident waste management workers by improving their skills, uplifting their wages, and offering better job prospects and career progression. To achieve this, we also require companies to invest in training and technology adoption. A more competent waste management workforce will benefit our waste management companies. This upgrading of the waste management industry will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans and Singapore.
4 We acknowledge that there will be some increase in operational cost initially, as Mr Ang Wei Neng has spoken about. To moderate the increase, the government has provided the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme which waste management companies can tap on. In the medium to longer term, investment in our workers will pay off for our companies by enhancing their capabilities, productivity and efficiency. Even as the government provides some transitional support, we would need to do our part as service buyers and consumers to bear some of the cost increase in order to support our lower wage waste management workers on their upskilling journey.
5 To Dr Wan Rizal’s suggestion to compress the wage schedule, the multi-year wage schedule, from 2023 to 2028 has been set out to provide greater certainty to the industry so that they can plan for the changes, in determining the wage recommendations. The Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management had made a conscious effort to offer better wages to attract new entrants and retain existing experienced workforce, and to couple this with higher skills requirements to drive greater productivity. To ensure the wage schedule remains relevant, a mid-term review would be undertaken in 2025.
6 On Mr Yip Hon Weng’s questions, it is not common practice for waste management companies to deploy outsourced workers from manpower supplying companies. The proposed amendments to prevent such a practice will ensure that all waste management workers benefit from the PWM wages. As for extending the PWM to other sub-sectors, we do have plans to cover the waste treatment and disposal sub-sector at a later stage.
7 I thank Members for their broader suggestions on waste management. I agree with Ms Joan Pereira that partnerships are key in achieving our zero waste vision. Individuals and organisations may tap on initiatives such as the SG Eco Fund for projects that support environmental sustainability and involve the community, and NEA’s 3R Fund for projects that reduce waste generation and disposal. As for Ms Poh Li San’s suggestion to move towards a user-pays principle for waste collection, a similar model has already been adopted for trade premises, where the monthly fee is based on the waste output by volume. We will continue to study different models for waste collection fees but there are currently no plans to adopt such a model for households.. Instead, we encourage households to reduce waste and recycle more through education and other policies.
Clarifications on PWM for both waste management and cleaning sectors
8 Members have also raised clarifications and suggestions on PWM that apply to both the waste management and the cleaning sectors.
9 On waste management, Mr Don Wee asked how we will ensure that resident workers will receive the PWM wage increments. The PWM requirements are implemented through the licensing regime for waste management licensees. Applicants for a waste management licence must show a progressive wage plan that they will be or are paying their workers PWM wages and produce relevant documents as required. NEA will conduct regular checks, and impose financial penalties in the event of non-compliance. In serious cases, the licence may be suspended or revoked.
10 A similar approach has been taken for the cleaning sector’s PWM, which is also implemented through the licensing regime for cleaning businesses. On Mr Yip Hon Weng’s question on the enforcement of PWM requirements for the cleaning sector, the number of penalties imposed in 2021 and 2022 has remained stable, where an average of about 5 financial penalties have been imposed on, and 30 warning letters have been issued to cleaning business licensees each year.
11 Mr Yip Hon Weng also asked about making skills upgrading more accessible to workers. Employers can tap on the Workfare Skills Support Scheme, which provides funding support such as absentee payroll to employers who send eligible workers for approved courses. For the cleaning sector, NEA works with NTUC U Care Centre to encourage service buyers to support their service providers who wish to send their cleaners for training during working hours, and call on service buyers to refrain from requesting for replacement headcounts if cleaning standards are not compromised.
12 Mr Louis Ng asked whether the PWM would be extended to migrant workers. The purpose of implementing the PWM requirements for resident workers in the waste management sector, as stated in the proposed amendments, is to ensure a more engaged waste collection and waste disposal workforce and the retention of a core of resident waste management workers. In developing the broader PWM, for other sectors and not just those in environmental services, it is recognised that employers are already responsible for additional costs of the migrant workers, including their healthcare, accommodation, and other related costs during their stay in Singapore. As such, employers are not required to adhere to the PWM for their migrant workers. Nonetheless, employers are encouraged to adopt the principles of the PWM for their migrant workers.
REVISED CLEANING BUSINESS LICENSING FRAMEWORK
13 Members have spoken extensively about the revised cleaning business licensing framework.
Transforming the cleaning sector
14 Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about the goals and benefits of the revised framework and our plans to achieve them, while Mr Don Wee, Ms Nadia Samdin, and Ms Ng Ling Ling raised concerns about increased business costs and possible folding of businesses. The revised framework is a strategic initiative under the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM) to build more capable businesses in environmental services and spur them to create quality jobs and careers. At steady state, all cleaning businesses will have to attain Class 1 or 2 licences after two years of joining the industry, and will have to ensure skills training and workplace safety for their workforce and attain corresponding levels of financial ability.
15 With the Class 3 licence retaining the same requirements as the current licensing scheme, the revised cleaning business licensing framework will not impose higher barriers to entry compared to today. Existing cleaning business licensees, including new entrants, that do not meet the requirements for the Class 1 or Class 2 licence can apply for the Class 3 licence and have an additional two years to grow their capabilities and transit to the Class 1 or Class 2 licences.
16 These changes are key to raising the capabilities of the cleaning industry, which will benefit both the businesses as well as service buyers. Given their ability to meet the higher minimum paid-up capital requirement and the additional training requirements relating to Workforce Skills Qualifications or WSQ, Class 1 licensees provide greater assurance to service buyers that they are equipped with more resources, experience and capabilities to undertake larger cleaning contracts, and are committed to uplifting the wages and competencies of our cleaners. Additionally, NEA is working with the Ministry of Finance towards requiring Government Procuring Entities to engage only cleaning businesses with a Class 1 licence.
17 To cope with the mandatory PWM wage increases for low-wage workers, cleaning businesses may tap on the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme for transitional wage support. We expect all cleaning businesses hiring resident workers to benefit from this Scheme.
18 Prior to revising the framework, NEA had consulted the cleaning industry extensively and considered specific feedback on the new requirements for the Class 1 and 2 licences. We also factored in the request for more time to transit and therefore planned for the revised framework to only come into effect on 1 January 2024. This gives existing cleaning business licensees more time, effectively up to three years from today until 2026, to eventually transit to a Class 2 or 1 licence.
19 Nevertheless, we recognise that there may be some degree of industry consolidation that favours companies with stronger capabilities and are better able to meet their employment obligations. In this transition, NEA will ensure there are sufficient safeguards to protect cleaners who may be displaced. In addition to giving existing cleaning businesses sufficient runway to transit, NEA will work closely with Workforce Singapore and NTUC U Care Centre to facilitate job transfers within the Environmental Services industry, if need.
20 To Mr Louis Ng’s question on compliance history, the proposed requirement is that in order to attain a Class 1 licence, cleaning businesses must not have any non-compliance with any written laws in the last 24 months. It must be relevant written laws. Only court conviction history, including those related to payment of wages to employees, will be taken into account. Overall, the new requirements have been calibrated to provide service buyers and workers with the assurance that the businesses have the financial stability as well as capabilities and practices to deliver reliable and quality cleaning services, without being overly onerous on business owners. NEA will continue to review the licensing framework as necessary and will take Mr Ng’s suggestions into consideration.
Innovation and Technology Adoption to boost productivity
21 Several Members, including Ms Joan Pereira, asked about the support for cleaning businesses to adopt technology and raise productivity, including working with Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to build competencies in the cleaning industry.
22 Beyond the ES ITM, there are various government initiatives supporting innovation and technology adoption. The Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service is a platform that helps cleaning businesses boost digitalisation efforts. Cleaning businesses can also benefit from the National Robotics Programme to develop new cleaning technology. In fact, the Autonomous Environmental Services Vehicle which facilitates cleaning through robotic road sweeping was developed this way.
23 To build competencies, NEA has been working with IHLs to equip cleaners with digital skills, such as using robotics systems, to improve operations and processes. To better address learning needs, Ms Nadia Samdin would be pleased to know that some training courses are offered in languages such as Mandarin and Malay, while some training providers deploy multilingual trainers for their courses. NEA will continue to partner IHLs and SkillsFuture Singapore to enhance training offerings for the cleaning workforce.
STATUTORY PRESUMPTIONS FOR LITTERING FROM RESIDENTIAL FLATS
24 I thank Members for supporting the introduction of the statutory presumptions for littering from residential flats. Some have asked how this would be applied.
Scope of the statutory presumptions
25 Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about the effectiveness of the new law and other plans to address high-rise littering. As highlighted in my Opening Speech, the statutory presumptions will place greater onus on owners and tenants of residential flats to prevent littering acts from being committed from their units in the first place. We believe this will enhance deterrence and contribute to reducing the number of high-rise littering acts in the long run.
26 Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mr Darryl David and Mr Ang Wei Neng asked about the scope of the statutory presumptions. The presumptions will not cover littering from common corridors and staircases. For high-rise littering committed from the common corridors and staircases of residential flats, NEA will continue to investigate such cases based on the current approach. The statutory presumptions also apply if litter is thrown from a private apartment that is used for residential purpose and the litter lands in a public place. For high-rise littering within condominium or private apartment estates, MCSTs can introduce and leverage their by-laws to take appropriate actions.
27 Mr Desmond Choo asked about the method of issuance of the letter of intended prosecution to owners or tenants. At the earlier stage of investigation, NEA will send a letter via post to notify the owner or tenant of the offence, and explain how the statutory presumption will apply during the legal proceedings for the offence, and how it may be rebutted. Contact via email or phone would only be possible after email addresses or phone numbers are furnished by the owners or tenants when they respond to the initial letter and request for subsequent correspondence via such methods. Dr Wan Rizal also asked whether owners or tenants could have more time, 30 days instead of 14 days, to rebut the presumption. The time period of 14 days is necessary to ensure that owners or tenants provide timely information to NEA to investigate the case effectively and efficiently. However, NEA will consider the facts of each appeal for more time to respond on a case-by-case basis, when deciding whether or not to proceed with enforcement action.
28 In response to Mr Perera’s query on the burden of proof for rebutting the presumption, there is no requirement for proving beyond reasonable doubt. For example, to prove that the owner or tenant was not at home, evidence such as purchase receipts or transportation trip transactions can be produced. Alternatively, in response to Ms Nadia’s question, the owner or tenant can provide the identity of the person whom he or she reasonably believes to be the offender to rebut the presumption. In response to Mr Perera, merely pointing the finger at another person without reasonable basis would not be acceptable.
Safeguards to ensure judicious enforcement against litterbugs
29 Let me now highlight our approach to ensuring careful and judicious enforcement, which several Members have spoken about.
30 Concerns were raised on how the statutory presumption may negatively affect the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and fairness in investigations such as possible instances where owners or tenants pin the responsibility on children or on elderly and disabled individuals to avoid the penalties. Let me assure Members that NEA will conduct investigations and assess the facts of each case carefully, including interviewing the named persons or relevant witnesses before proceeding with any enforcement actions to ensure that no individuals are wrongly accused. In cases involving multiple owners or tenants, given that NEA will send the letter of intended prosecution to all registered owners and tenants individually, each owner or tenant can respond directly to NEA. Individuals found to knowingly provide false information to implicate another person can be charged for providing false information. NEA will be judicious and exercise care in investigating and resolving cases involving vulnerable groups such as young children and the elderly, as is already practised today.
31 For littering acts committed by children below the age of 12, NEA will not take enforcement action against them as they may not have sufficient maturity to understand what they had done. Currently, NEA will issue an advisory letter to the parents to underscore their responsibility to educate their child on binning litter properly. As for offenders with mental incapacity, NEA refers such cases to social welfare agencies such as the Agency for Integrated Care to provide more holistic help, with consent from the offender, or if the offender is not capable of giving such consent, then his or her next-of-kin. The social welfare agencies may then work with relevant stakeholders such as IMH for medical assessments.
32 For persistent cases involving the vulnerable groups, NEA may engage the parents or households to implement measures to prevent high-rise littering such as installing wire mesh on their windows. While we empathise with the families of offenders with mental incapacity, NEA may still proceed with prosecution for persistent cases with the Attorney General Chambers’ concurrence, especially if the offender is aware of the nature and consequences of his or her actions, and no effort is made to prevent recurrence.
Effectiveness of surveillance cameras
33 Some Members asked about the effectiveness of NEA’s surveillance cameras. NEA had increased the number of surveillance camera deployments by over 50% in 2020 and currently deploys about 200 surveillance cameras each month. High-rise littering incidences are captured in about 35% of such camera deployments on average over a five-year period. In 2020 and 2021, about 7% of high-rise littering cases were attributed to persons below the age of 19 and 24% to those above the age of 64. NEA does not track the data for individuals with mental or physical disabilities, which only forms a minority of offenders. The catch-rate is constrained by factors such as the suitability of the vantage points for camera deployment, lighting conditions and quality of information received through feedback.
34 Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Liang Eng Hwa may be pleased to know that NEA’s surveillance cameras already leverage video analytics to detect falling litter, allowing for flagging and notification of high-rise littering acts without the need to manually review hours of video footages. NEA will continue to enhance its enforcement capabilities by keeping pace with developments in surveillance camera technology.
Penalty for littering from residential flats
35 Several Members including Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked if current penalties were effective, particularly against recalcitrant offenders. We have stiff penalties for high-rise littering and only about 4% of offenders who litter from residential flats are repeat offenders. Littering offenders can be fined up to $2,000, $4,000, and $10,000 for their first, second and subsequent offences respectively. If the Court is satisfied that it would be appropriate for the protection of the environment and rehabilitation of the offender, the offender may also be issued with a Corrective Work Order (CWO). To Members’ suggestion to make the CWO mandatory for all littering offenders, the current fines remain an effective deterrent. NEA will continue to monitor the situation and review the penalty regime where necessary.
36 To Mr Don Wee’s query, for recalcitrant offenders who appeal to NEA due to financial hardship, NEA will assess the facts of the case and the offender’s past offences before taking the appropriate actions. This may include offering a composition sum or not acceding to the appeal. To deter such offenders from littering again, NEA ensures that the enforcement actions are commensurate with the severity of the offence.
37 Mr Desmond Choo asked if a new clause could be included to provide a jail term in addition to fines, if the items littered have the propensity to cause harm. I would like to clarify that currently, where a person throws litter from residential buildings and endangers the personal safety of others or causes bodily harm, he or she can be liable under the Penal Code for an offence which is punishable with both imprisonment and fines.
38 The suggestion to terminate the lease of flat owners who are recalcitrant offenders is a harsh measure that ought not to be undertaken lightly. HDB exercises the right of compulsory acquisition sparingly and as a last resort. Nevertheless, this measure may also not address the root of the issue, if the offender is just forced to move out and commits high-rise littering at a new address.
Submission of evidence
39 There are suggestions for NEA to accept evidence of littering from residential flats submitted by members of the public. And as I shared earlier, clear evidence that an act of littering had been committed from an identified flat must be provided. Members of the public can provide such evidence through channels such as myENV or the OneService mobile apps. NEA will follow up and investigate the littering offence as long as the quality of the evidence is able to support NEA’s enforcement action.
40 Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked if residents are allowed to install cameras pointing upwards and not directly into their neighbours’ units to identify high-rise littering offenders. While residents may undertake measures to support NEA, we encourage residents to be mindful of community relations and respect the privacy of their neighbours, as installing cameras within one’s unit may intrude into his or her neighbours’ privacy or interfere with his or her neighbours’ enjoyment or use of their homes. Residents should seek Town Council’s approval prior to installing any camera in HDB common spaces given that this is regulated under the Town Council by-laws.
Imposing similar statutory presumptions for smoking at windows or balconies
41 Lastly, Mr Louis Ng asked if a similar statutory presumption could be used to address the problem of second-hand smoke in flats. As explained earlier, the statutory presumption proposed in this Bill first requires clear evidence that an act of littering has been committed from a specific residential flat.
42 Unlike high-rise littering acts which involve undisputed evidence of littering from a flat, obtaining proof of the acts of smoking at windows and balconies is technologically inordinately more challenging. In addition to finding suitable locations for the deployment of surveillance cameras to detect smoking at homes and balconies, such cameras would need to detect the heat signature of a smoker’s lit cigarette, and visually identify that the lit object is a cigarette. The cameras that need to be used have a much shorter range and their line of sight can easily be blocked when smokers stand further from the windows or stand behind a glass pane, curtains, or any physical barriers. Besides the limitations of current heat detection camera technology, this proposal gives rise to privacy issues as the entire footage recorded may have to be reviewed manually, even if it is by authorised persons.
43 These challenges need to be overcome before we can consider prohibiting smoking at windows and balconies. I have explained this at length in this House on many occasions, but not to disappoint the member, I am explaining this again. As since then we have yet to see practicable solutions, from our scanning of available technology as well as international developments, to address second-hand smoke coming from homes. Nonetheless, I would like to assure Mr Louis Ng that we will continue to monitor developments in these areas with regard to smoking in homes because we are as concerned about second-hand smoke and the harm it causes.
44 Moving on to the rest of the amendments in this Bill.
Pneumatic waste conveyance system
45 To Mr Don Wee’s question on what can be done to address errant acts that result in blockages of the PWCS, Town Councils are required under the Town Councils Act to maintain, repair and replace the PWCS. The Town Councils can introduce a by-law to make causing blockages of PWCS an offence and develop ways of enforcing against this. The PWCS chute hopper is designed such that bulky items, for example large or long items, would not be able to fit into the opening. Sensors and monitoring equipment also help to prevent an excessive piling up of refuse within the chute. Residents and contractors are reminded that bulky waste can be conveniently disposed by contacting their respective Town Councils for assistance.
46 Mr Gan Thiam Poh sought clarification on the cost of installing PWCS and how it compares to the potential savings in labour cost. Based on our consultations, the additional capital cost of PWCS is a small proportion of the total cost of a development, and the maintenance cost is also a small proportion of the building’s operational costs. With increasing manpower challenges and the rising cost of labour, we can expect more cost savings due to the reduced manpower requirement of PWCS, not to mention the environmental benefits from the reduction in pest infestation, odours, and exposed waste.
Dumping of waste at common areas
47 Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked about the disposal of waste in common areas of HDB blocks. To clarify, the prohibition in section 20 applies to the use of a vehicle to dump waste in a public place, or the dumping of waste from a vehicle in a public place. Disposing of waste in HDB common areas, except in areas designated for refuse, contravenes the respective Town Council’s by-laws. Residents wishing to dispose of bulky items may also contact their respective Town Councils for assistance.
Extension of limitation period in Section 95 of the Act
48 With regard to the extension of the limitation period in Section 95 of the Act, I would like to clarify that this would apply to any offence committed under the EPHA other than an offence that involves an injury or danger to health that subsists at the date of the complaint of the offence, and not only illegally dumping cases. Complex cases include those involving multiple interviewees, some of whom may be uncooperative, thereby prolonging investigations. Notwithstanding the amendment, NEA will ensure that our investigation processes remain efficient.
49 Mr Speaker, Sir, let me conclude. We have come a long way since independence, working hard to keep Singapore clean. This was made possible by the tireless efforts of generations of Singaporeans, including our cleaners and waste management workers. Not only has this benefited our health and well-being, being a clean and green city has become part of our national identity. We must cherish what we have and continue to be guided by the values of care and consideration to keep our environment clean.
50 The proposed changes, as set out in this Bill, will enable us to support our cleaning and waste management sectors, as well as strengthen our shared responsibility to cultivate right behaviours that safeguard public health and a clean environment.
51 Hence, I call on all Members of the House to support this Bill. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.