Earlier this year, just before Chinese New Year, some of you may remember that I complained on Facebook that the cleaning situation in Chinatown Complex was in a mess. Apparently, the cleaning contractor had absconded with all the money that us stall owners had paid up for that month, and could not be found.
Now, Chinatown is busiest during the month leading up to Chinese New Year, which meant that the centre was always crowded. Obviously by this time the cleaners had stopped cleaning, and the centre became utterly filthy. If you’ve visited us during that period, I’m sure you’d remember.
What made it worse was that the local hawkers’ committee, the Town Council and the NEA weren’t able to find sufficient cleaners to help us tide over this period. We stall holders even had to pay an additional (and exorbitant) sum to find an interim contractor to take over while we looked for a more permanent solution.
The amount demanded for was so much that each cleaner we hired would actually make more than us hawkers on a per-hour basis! As you can imagine many stall holders refused to pay, accusing the authorities of holding us to ransom - an NEA official even threatened to shut us all down for potential health safety violations during a closed door session - and we reached an unfortunate impasse. This situation was even reported by the local Chinese media (for which us stallholders were chastised by someone from the authorities for making them look bad in that very same closed door session).
Thankfully, a compromise was later reached, and, more importantly, a new cleaning contractor came in fast enough to prevent the dispute from boiling over. However, each stall holder now had to pay around 20% more for cleaning services under the new contract.
We would find out later that the cleaners who did the actual filthy work of cleaning up food scraps and clearing the soiled crockery, hadn’t been paid by their boss for months, some even up to four months.
In case you’re wondering, there are 200 stalls in Chinatown Complex, and each stall pays an average of $250 per month for cleaning services. This means that the runaway boss absconded with around $50,000 for that month alone. If he hadn’t paid his workers, that would mean he’s sitting pretty on easily $100,000-150,000. And his workers? Left with not a single cent.
Hence it is not surprising to read this in our local papers. It’s far too easy to set up a cleaning company as a scam to pull exactly that sort of stunt we at Chinatown Complex suffered earlier this year.
It angers me that the people most affected by this are the cleaners. They are already looked upon as the blue-collar of blue-collar workers, working insane hours at a very filthy and unappreciated job. The lowest rungs of society.
And you know what? Almost all of them who now work in Chinatown Complex are locals. And they are being taken advantage of by their own. I’ll leave you to think upon that.
So yes, we need the authorities to clean up the cleaning agencies, instead of feeding the monster by insisting on ever lower quotes from these fly-by-night operators. We need to pay a suitable wage to cleaners - and not the contractors.
Meanwhile at The Good Beer Company we’ve started to put out a tray for customers to return empty bottles and glasses. While this will certainly help to cut down on lost (and stolen) glasses, more importantly it eases a little load off Beer Uncle and the elderly cleaning uncle with the crooked neck who works his rounds in our area.
Granted, it’s a very small step in the grand scheme of things, but I’d like to see it as a way to retrain Singaporeans - and others - to be more gracious and that it only takes a little effort to help make someone else’ life better.
For those of you who already return empty glasses and bottles on your own accord, thank you. You may not know how much that means to the cleaning uncle.