The life of being a cleaner is definitely not easy in Singapore. Honestly, take a look at the cleaning landscape and how it has changed (if at all) over the past many years. Up till today, perennial problems faced by our janitors, cleaners and helpers have hardly been resolved. In fact, these problems were brought up from as long as 6-7 years ago!
As an active platform arranging cleaning services, MEIDE.SG certainly owes it to our fleet of home helpers and cleaners to talk about the hard truths from being a cleaner here in Singapore. Our company has always openly voiced strong support for cleaners. Additionally, it is our mission to boost a healthier work environment for them. Of course, this includes identifying and tackling key obstacles that our providers face daily, being a cleaner.
In line with Singapore’s recent laudable steps to support Singapore cleaners with higher wages, and as a supplement to our founder’s interview over the national radio CNA 938, this article serves to lay out five hard truths about being a cleaner in Singapore today.
Hopefully by doing so, people in Singapore can recognize these hard truths, and acknowledge the sweat and tears by our local cleaners. Collectively we can tackle these hard truths and make the lives of our dear cleaners better.
1) Social Stigmas Faced By Being A Cleaner
The elephant in the room is clearly social stigma. Frankly, you name it, and almost any form of discrimination against cleaners exists. From real-life experience, our platform has encountered many instances of discrimination against helpers and cleaners.
Stigma against cleaners’ socio-economic status
First up, who has grown up in Singapore and not heard of the common parental admonishment – “if you do not study hard, you will end up to become a cleaner!”?
Short of encouraging younglings to excel better in life, this admonishment, however unintentional, propels children of today to develop a mindset of stigmatizing cleaners. And before we know it, our society today comprising of the children who were all exposed to this influential “quote”, has turned into a society that frequently regards the cleaning profession and industry as “beneath others”.
In comparison, there are actually many other countries in which the cleaning profession is very respectfully regarded. A close example is Australia, where cleaners notably go through stringent training and qualifications, and command a high salary. Perhaps as result of that, as well as upbringing, residents in Australia would hardly look down on their janitors or cleaners.
Indeed, Singapore has recognized the need for such an approach too. With the implementation and promotion of WSQ and Skillsfuture, as well as the continued increment of cleaner wages, we are moving in the right direction. Nonetheless, nothing beats starting our children on the right foot by instilling respect and grateful regard for cleaners, manual laborers, repairman, plumbers, and basically anybody in their respective professions, regardless of industry.
Stigma against gender, race, nationality and age.
Yes, from stigma against male cleaners, to stigma against certain race, nationality and even age, we have faced it all. This is a hard truth faced by many cleaners in Singapore. Somehow, there exists many pre-conceived notions such as: “cleaners ought to be aunties/females”, “only cleaners who are XXX race can clean properly”, “cleaners who are too young cannot clean well”, and so on and so forth. All these biased mindsets are certainly untrue! As a matter of fact, from our vast experience and years of working, gender, race, nationality and age play almost nil role in determining the quality and standard of cleaners.
2) Loneliness Experienced From Being A Cleaner
Again, another hard truth about being a cleaner is psychological in nature. No doubt, that is imbedded in the nature of this line of work. Understandably, cleaners often function singly to wipe and clean a region of the house or office. Often, they also operate within a small confined space (eg. the toilet), and thus work largely alone. Even before and after work, cleaners may not get to be around fellow colleagues. This is unlike work in an office or in public places where one can frequently interact with others.
But, don’t cleaners still get to interact with clients, homeowners, office workers or shoppers in the mall? Indeed, there are other people around the cleaners at times, but why does being a cleaner still create such loneliness? Inherently, cleaners are still shunned by many. Homeowners may not talk to cleaners beyond the bare minimal greeting or instructions. Shoppers often walk by without even noticing the presence of cleaners.
This brings us to the next hurdle frequently faced by cleaners – a lack of sense of inclusion and value, within society. Read on to understand.
3) Lack of A Sense Of Inclusion and Value In Society
Thirdly, this hard truth is reflected in a scientific study conducted in recent years. Read the study here.
Whilst the study may sound all technical, there is much truth in it. Somehow, cleaners in our daily lives are treated as “invisible” or taken for granted. How many times have you greeted your residential or office cleaner? Have you regarded and treated them as your equal colleague? Also, just as your cleaner works to serve you, have you ever asked your cleaner if they required any help from you too?
With the presence of cleaners all around us in Singapore, it is vital that we increase awareness of their importance in society. Being a cleaner is not an easy task, and regular recognition and appreciation from people around helps tremendously.
On the bright side, companies like MEIDE.SG is working to tackle this problem. As a starter, we remind homeowners to always welcome their home helpers. This includes orienting the cleaner during the first few visits, and preparing for the cleaning session in the right way. Also, we would encourage homeowners to show appreciation by giving compliments whenever possible. Furthermore, for cleaning durations of long hours, MEIDE would hint for additional short breaks / meal treat to be provided so as to promote better cleaner-client relations!
4) Physical Exhaustion
Next, words cannot fully describe the physical exhaustion of our dear cleaners in Singapore! This is one real hard truth and setback when being a cleaner. Well, for the male citizens in Singapore, think back of your army days and how your sergeant has administered “stand by bed” or “stand by bunk” doing the cleaning inspection of your quarters. Our cleaners face that almost daily in their work!
Despite the advent of some useful technology like cleaning robots, one can only expect to get down on knees and hands to clean the corner of small cupboards, nook and cranny, and scrub down the toilet. Also, have you seen the adverse effects of cleansing detergents on cleaners’ skin? Thus, MEIDE always reminds of the need for safety cleaning equipment like long-sleeved rubber gloves!
All in all, a cleaning job is most definitely a physically draining and precarious one. Unfortunately, there is little to be done to escape from this hard truth. However, being a cleaner, one can maintain a healthier lifestyle (and mindset) to ensure your body stays fit enough to endure all the toughness. As an additional note, MEIDE.SG also hopes and believes that Singapore can do much more in promoting health and wellness amongst our cleaners!
5) Fear of Financial Mistreatment
Lastly, being a cleaner in Singapore means possibly frequently exposing yourself to risks of financial mistreatment. What does this mean?
Well, think of the job of a taxi or bus driver. Obviously, they are much better protected because of well-built payment systems and the presence of unions. Even delivery riders such as those working for Grab or Foodpanda, can feel rather secure about getting payment from clients.
In contrast, somehow, cleaners in Singapore end up swallowing the hard pill. Customers may make things difficult by complaining about their expectations not being met. Worse, cleaners have faced situations whereby customers claim that appliances were scratched or damaged by the cleaners. Or, perhaps customers may lament about cleaners being late for their schedule. All these end up in the fear that customers may deduct the promised pay, or worse, default payment altogether.
Protecting Cleaners From Financial Mistreatment
In recognition of these troubles, one can think of two solutions: (1) change the mindsets and manage expectations of customers, and (2) engage the security and protection from established organizations/unions.
Thankfully, increasingly, Singapore has the second solution. MEIDE.SG and NTUC are two such great choices. The very purpose of having an official title and business is to regulate mishaps properly. MEIDE Singapore is committed towards continuously facilitating cleaning and such services in a way that is most fair to consumers and cleaners! Believe us, we have labored on these points here (and more articles to come):
Learning From The 5 Hard Truths of Being A Cleaner
Thank you for reading all the way here. If you had understood our article, you are a pivotal person in improving the lives of cleaners and creating a change in society.
Unfortunately, this article has only been able to cover the barely sufferable truths of being a cleaner. Yet, there is so much more to be said and done.
If you are keen and motivated to join MEIDE in this cause, share the article and gather support! Like and share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter! Together, we can promote further awareness as a community. As we continue to raise awareness, we are certain that Singapore will realize these hard truths. For a start, the recent news for higher cleaning wages and boost of cleaning training skills by the Government in 2021 has been a boon!
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As an organization, MEIDE will continue to write and publish articles like this. We will touch on solutions to tackling these hard truths in time. Eventually though, it can only be through a collective effort for changes to happen.
Together, let us remove the social stigma, change the mindsets of society towards cleaners, and treat all occupations with equally high respect and regard.