Climbing upstairs to my 1st floor flat, I thought,” Thank God, for the cleaner!”. This is not a posh place but kept neat, tidy and clean by a cleaner employed by the Apartments Management Office of our blocks. All residents, including tenants contribute a small sum for the upkeep and cleanliness of these 4 storied blocks. Keeping a public place clean is not a pleasant job.
This brings to mind the scores of cleaners and blue collar workers, some being foreign workers, who carry out so many manual tasks to maintain a hygenic and pleasant environment in so many public places like hospitals, shopping malls, bus terminuses, public toilets and roads. Garbage collectors also fall into the hygiene maintainance category, having to face stench and putrefying, nauseating piles of wet mushy organic waste, food packaging, disposable sanitary wear like soiled diapers etc., and any thing that’s lobbed into the large garbage receptacle through the chute.
More disgustingly, some people think that they are entitled to mess the place so the cleaners and garbage collectors have to clean up after them. Rubbish is simply thrown anywhere and everywhere. They seem to think that the hygiene workers have too little work to do, and so must be unreasonably exploited. Who do they think they are? The ‘swollen headed tauke’ (boss) taxpayers who forget that they are actually dependent on these humble blue collar workers to maintain their health and respectability.
I have frequently watched, with much revulsion, the way in which these blue collar hygiene workers are treated, and am certain that they suffer in silence because they need these ill-paying and totally exploitative jobs to keep their own, and dependents body and souls together.
Once I was sitting in the Sg. Nibong Express Coach Station in Penang and observed a foreign hygiene worker clearing rubbish out of the bins around the bus terminus waiting area, into some big black plastic bin bags. Whoever, his contractor employer was, had not provided him with any protective clothing, or even gloves, uniform or face mask. He had to clear the dirty, germ ridden bins with his bare-hands and a blackened rag that didn’t look very clean. He probably had no choice in the matter, even if he had asked for these necessities to do the job.
Such employers are likely to retort, ” accept these conditions or leave”. These are the sort of employers who want everything for nothing, and see it as normal practice to treat the worker like a machine. Once broken-down, readily replaceable. I wonder, if the slipper was on the other foot, whether they would be as resilent as the workers they ill-treat and exploit in this way?
In another instance, as I was walking past an upmarket shop in Pulau Tikus, I saw another foreign employee, who had apparently come to start his new job. He was well, though not formally, dressed and stood listening as a man (apparently his new boss) said something to him. The very next second, I saw him having to squat down on the sidewalk and pickup some rubbish thrown near a pillar with his bare hands and deposit the rubbish in a nearby bin. His expression of surprise and disappointment at this apparent humiliation was unmistakable. It was degrading. It was hard not to feel pity for the foreign worker, and embarrassment and disgust, that he should suffer such treatment from a Malaysian employer.
There have been so many incidences of ill-treatment, not only of foreign workers but of workers in general, but despite the “Ooos” and “Ahhs” expressed by many middle and upper-class readers of these reports, this same public has yet to learn that workers are human beings with dignity and rights to be respected.
In an attempt to talk to someone about the non-supply of protective clothing, which employers should rightly supply to these hygiene workers, the response received was a glib and dismissive one, that the worker should purchase these necessities for their own use, with their own money. This was really nauseating and the conversation lapsed into silence, though I was fuming at the obvious ignorance and lack of humanity of the speaker. Did he think that people with mega bucks come to Malaysia to take up such jobs, as if they had nothing else to do?
Many Malaysians seem unaware that although they are the employers, it is these workers without whom their lives won’t be as easy, and their businesses won’t thrive. It is not the employer who does the worker a favor by filling the vacancy, but the worker who is doing the employer the favor by submitting to such treatment in the circumstances, for the employer’s own benefit and profit, usually for low pay, slave-labor conditions and odd working hours.
Hygiene workers do the general public a favor by maintaining the cleanliness and pleasantness of public spaces despite the often dirty and dangerous nature of their jobs. Theirs is the nobler cause. What would we do without them? Live in a DUMP?