Friday, December 17, 2010

To have 3-star toilets, have happy cleaners first

After only about 30 per cent out of the 30,000 restrooms in Singapore meet a three-star standard, must be from hotels and ATAS shopping centers like ION, the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) came up with some Inter-Agency Working Committee (IAWC) report, and targeted to have at least 70 per cent of the toilets meet that three-star standard by 2013.

And in order to draft a three-year blueprint sophisticated enough to justify their jobs and prove that they were working hard, the committee came up with some very out-of-the-box ideas that are totally out-of-touch with the people using and cleaning them.

Like an ERP system for toilets during peak hours. How original. I've written enough of the effectiveness of the original ERP system on the roads so I won't bore my readers here again. And anyway they are smarter than the committee to know when things won't work.

Like giving cleaners the authority to act as "inspectors" to warn or fine irresponsible users. So what will you call people that beat cleaners up in the toilets then? Toilet bullies?

And other ideas - like shared cleaning services, and better restroom lightings and brighter colours to influence improved user behaviour - are just... other rubbishes.

Enough focus on the toilet users. My suggestion to the committee is to look at the other side of the coin instead. The cleaners.

Cleaners are one of most exploited workers in Singapore, perhaps second only to construction workers and maids. One reason is that most of the cleaners are retired old folks who are less educated, and like what we have learned from robbers and con-men, they are the best candidates to cheat and not get caught. Thus cleaning companies find it difficult to resist the temptation of paying them extremely little and exploiting them further.

Unfortunately, most of my elder relatives, even my father, are cleaners, and what I'm about to reveal are real stories happening below the nose of the Restroom Association of Singapore.

When one of my uncle was working as cleaner in a office building downtown, he will always get his pay, which was about $600, at least three months late. The foreign workers were even worse. One of them had his pay delayed for more than six months.

When one of my aunties was working as cleaner in a secondary school, she did get her few hundreds dollars pay on time. But her company failed to pay for her CPF. In fact, the company did not submit CPF contribution for all of the cleaners.

When this aunty of mine resigned and joined another cleaning company, she did get her pay and CPF contribution regularly alright. But the company had a rule that all cleaners shalt not take sick leave. Meaning all sick leaves will be considered part of their 7 days annual leaves. Oh, also, when they are on sick leaves or annual leaves, they have to get a temporary cleaner to stand in for them, and get this... they have to pay for their own temporary cleaners.

My father is working as a cleaner in a NEA waste management plant in Tuas. He gets his pay on time, even his CPF contribution, though not on time. But when I last checked his CPF statement online, I discovered that his company's name has been changed from Company A to Company B. Nope, his employer is still the same and they did not change their company name. Due to the Government's tightening of the import quota for foreign workers, his company has apparently set up a new company and transferred the names of all local cleaners in Company A to Company B, so as to employ more cheaper, better, faster foreign workers. Ah... so my father has become the Phantom of the Cleaning Company.

This is common sense. If the cleaners are not treated fairly, they are not going to be happy. And when the cleaners are not happy, most probably they won't be doing their best at their work. So dear RAS president, I'll suggest that you grab a cleaner out of a toilet and ask him whether he is happy. This might put more practicality to your sophisticated three-year blueprint.

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