Home Web Specials 2012 Web Specials What would we do without them?

What would we do without them?

Join us on Telegram and Instagram for the latest.

Hygiene workers do the general public a favour by maintaining the cleanliness and pleasantness of public spaces despite the often dirty and dangerous nature of their jobs. Theirs is the nobler cause, says Jasmine Tea.


Climbing upstairs to my first 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 four-storey 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 hygienic 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 maintenance category, having to face stench and putrefying, nauseating piles of wet mushy organic waste, food packaging, disposable sanitary wear like soiled diapers and anything that is 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.

READ MORE:  Addicted to easy profits off the back of cheap labour

I have frequently watched, with much revulsion, the way in which these blue-collar hygiene workers are treated, and I am certain that they suffer in silence because they need these ill-paying and totally exploitative jobs to keep their own, and their dependants’ body and soul together.

Once I was sitting in the Sungai Nibong Express Bus Terminal 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 resilient 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 turned up 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 side-walk and pick up 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.

READ MORE:  Cheap, exploited labour cannot build a sustainable nation

There have been so many incidences of ill-treatment not only of foreign workers but of workers in general, but despite the “Oohs” 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, they have to rely on 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 favour by filling the vacancy, but the worker who is doing the employer a favour by submitting to such treatment in the circumstances, for the employer’s own benefit and profit, usually for low pay, slave-labour conditions and odd working hours.

Hygiene workers do the general public a favour 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?

READ MORE:  Tackling forced labour must include massive overhaul of official policy and attitudes

Source: shannanjp.blogspot.com

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
Notify of
1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x