Singapore authorities have made it mandatory for diners at hawker centres to return their own trays since 1 June this year, in addition to clearing their table of litter like used tissues, straws, canned drinks, and spilled food.
And whose job is it to persuade diners to clean up after themselves? Tray Return Ambassadors.
Eager to find the right people, several job recruitment portals advertised for the role. However, on Friday they were all asked by National Environment Agency (NEA) to remove job listings, as no contract for these roles has been awarded yet.
Companies rush to recruit ambassadors
The job opening was posted on several local recruitment websites, including Monster and MyCareersFuture. The salary posted range from S$1,400 to S$2,200. This is more than what an average cleaner gets paid, which is currently S$1,274.
Many netizens have wondered why cleaners can’t take those roles, since the Ambassadors are merely there to encourage people to return trays and clean up after themselves.
However, a Tray Return Ambassador is more than just a fancy title: the person is supposed to increase the tray return rate at hawker centres, promote the tray return initiative, as well as planning and executing activities – including sharing sessions with diners – to encourage people to clean up after themselves. Basically, it’s a customer service role.
Interestingly, the role of Tray Return Ambassador isn’t new. It’s been around since as far back as 2016 when the initiative first started. In 2020, the same role was advertised with a salary of S$2,000-S$2,500!
Don’t forget the Social Distancing Ambassador
Confusingly, there’s another ambassador role that’s been advertised on recruitment sites – the Social Distancing Ambassador. Their job is to ensure diners maintain social distance, consolidate and report statistics, and also… advocate patrons to return their trays! Their job listings show a salary range of S$1,900 to S$2,100 – or S$12 per hour. That’s more than what McDonald’s pays their frontline staff, which is around S$6-8 according to Glassdoor.
Where do we go from here?
Only time will tell if the Ambassadors will be the key to making Singaporeans clear their tables. It’s not easy to reboot a lifetime of habits – the Ambassadors have to persuade an entire generation of diners who’ve grown up leaving their mess for cleaners because 1) they believe they’re creating jobs for cleaners or 2) they don’t want to feel like they’re dining in a mess hall because they paid for their meals.
Those who don’t return their trays and clean up after themselves will be given a written warning, with second-time offenders given a $300 fine. After that, offenders may face court fines of up to $2,000 for their first conviction. As the majority of the public have been so used to cleaners clearing our tables, the enforcement of the new rules will only take place from Sep 1 to help diners adjust. Until then, diners will only be “advised” and encouraged to follow the rule.
The Singapore Food Agency and National Environment Agency will be also rolling out enforcement of the tray return rules progressively at coffee shops and foodcourts in the fourth quarter of this year.
Perhaps to really instill good habits, we can look at countries like Japan for inspiration. The Japanese are taught from a very young age to return their trays and clear their tables, and these habits have been ingrained in them well into adulthood; just go to any self-service restaurant in Japan and you won’t find a single messy table left behind.