I figured that probably the best place to start is with a good old rant about what’s lousy about the job. I’ve been cleaning for two years now and despite me loving my job, there’s some big bad nasty rants about it too.
1) Lack of respect. This is the biggie. Cleaning is unskilled manual labour and people can get very judgemental with you about that. We also work with people’s waste and stains and bodily fluids, again, another dent to any sort of respect. It all comes together with this image of cleaners being stupid, anti-social, ugly, smelly and thieves. Most of this is bullshit. This whole lack of respect makes every single part of our job harder.
2) Low pay. National minimum wage is the benchmark and unless you work for the council, or NHS then it’s unlikely to ever get more than 10p an hour more. If national minimum wage doesn’t go up, then regardless of inflation, your experience, performance, or needs, then your wages do not go up either. Minimum wage is particularaly a problem for younger cleaners who are paid as little as £3.57 an hour. Just stop and think about that for a moment. We’re talking about unskilled labour here. I’d never describe our job as “easy”, but it certainly doesn’t take years of experience to learn how to do it, so there really is no excuse for paying younger cleaners less. The only thing it’s achieved is that the bosses get cheaper labour and can threaten to replace us with younger, cheaper, staff on a whim. The low pay also means that many assume that we must steal from other workers to get by. I’ve never met a single cleaner yet who would steal the possessions of another worker, although we all have heard the occasional horror story which the exception, rather than the rule.
3) Anti-Social hours… or not? If getting up at 4am’s your thing, then there’s cleaning work gallore. For the rest of us, it’s at best a nuisance and in my own case of being deaf and not being able to rely on alarms to wake me, totally unworkable. There are evening shifts too but then you just lose out on the social part of your life with friends and family. On the other hand, these odd hours do work in some cleaners’ favour, but I’ll save that for the “The good stuff” post.
4) Driving. The best paying cleaning work is always going to be the residential jobs. Somebody who’s too bone idle to clean their own big house calls for a cleaner. Now, the sorts of people with the cash, or “need” to hire a cleaner are not living in the same areas that the cleaners themselves live in. So, there’s traveling involved. Getting the bus over’s a no-no because usually you’ll be looking at 4 buses to get you to and from your destination, costing you around £4, which is going to be most of the money you make from cleaning the house. So, you need a car, or it’s unworkable. I know very few people who can afford to run a car in the industry, so we end up relying on agencies, which are notoriously unreliable in picking up and dropping off, to run us to and from our sites, which brings me onto my next rant…
5) Agencies. The bane of my existence! Now, here’s what bugs me. The client wants a clean house/workplace and wants cleaners to make it that way. That’s all they want is to make sure that we keep the place clean and that’s the only reason that they hand over a single penny to anyone. So, why is it that the money goes to the agency and not to us? I mean, we’re the ones actually doing, you know, the actual cleaning? Seriously, what exactly do our managers and CEO’s and company directors actually do? They don’t do the cleaning that the client’s asking for. That’s for sure. In fact, their sole job seems to be to support us (which they’re universally crap at), or bollock us, (which they seem to be universally determined to do, just so it looks like they actually do something). And for this shockingly poor service, they get paid in the realms of £30k+ a year for it, while I, the one that actually is the only person that the client actually wants, gets paid £4k a year. The admin staff then have the balls to come over to our sites and try to tell us how to do our jobs and then, get this, claim that we should be grateful for them giving us a job! I’m sorry, but what??? Last I checked, it’s us that do the job that brings in the money, which these managers take a large cut of, without our consent. I employ the managers (unfortunately) not the other way around! It’s time they showed us some damn respect.
6) False accusations. Maybe this one’s a personal gripe. I don’t know, but I find that I get accused of a lot of stuff that’s outright wrong. If anything goes missing, then the cleaners are surely to blame. If there’s a tea stain on a desk, it’s not because somebody may have spilt a cup of tea on there 5 minutes ago, but automatically because we haven’t wiped that desk the night before. If we are not working in absolute silence, then we must be wasting time. Surprisingly, it does even go further than this. I’ve been accused to disturbing meetings that were going on four hours before my shift and work not getting done while I was on holiday! It all comes back again to this whole lack of respect for us. Managers think that we’re easy to push around and pin all their problems on us. I can only hope that my fellow cleaners start sticking together and showing these parasites just how wrong they can be.
7) Sick pay. We don’t get it. Little known fact about sick pay is that you are only legally entitled to it if you earn above a certain amount. Most cleaners do not earn enough and so, if they’re sick they either have three choices, take a holiday, don’t get paid, or come in anyway. During the Swine Flu outbreak I turned into work, clearly with flu-like symptoms. I was dead on my feet and it was a awful awful week and a half. My manager did phone me up one night and ask if I had flu and I asked why. She said that I would be immediately suspended from work without pay if I did. I put on my best un-sickie voice and told her that I was fresh as a daisy and went back to work to infect most of the client’s staff. Give a businessman the choice between doing the right thing and the thing that’s free and guess what they’ll do. Let this be a lesson to them. You must reap what you sow.
8) Men. The women do the cleaning. The men are the managers and supervisors. Never the other way around. Sexism in the workplace is still going strong! Nothing more to add to that.
9) Bullies. This goes for a lot of jobs I guess, but I think we’re particularly vulnerable to it, again down to lack of respect. There are some lovely people that I clean for who will say hello and ask how I am and I’ll do the same and they’ll let me know if there’s anything out of the ordinary they’d like doing. Unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of people who either ignore you completely and seem horrified if you speak to them or make eye contact, or the bastards who are watching you like hawks for something to pick at so that they can feel a little bit of power and control. One woman at work even demanded that I painted the pipes in the toilets and when I told her that I wouldn’t do it, she threatened to get me sacked. Of course she was just a bully and was bluffing, but the attitude remained with her for a long time. Another time this same woman started shouting and screaming at me in the office because when she demanded her tiny waste paper basket have a massive black bin liner in it, instead of the usual little ones and my answer was that I’d go and check if we had any spare. I wasn’t sure if we’d even got any because the agency had messed up the order on bin bags (surprise surprise) so we were short of them. Anyway, this wasn’t good enough an answer for her and she started screaming at me. Bear in mind too that this woman is not even my boss, or even high up in the client’s business. She’s an accountant who works at the site who’d just decided that I was going to be her target for abuse. We’ve had lots of “complaints” from this woman. Karma will visit her soon hopefully.
With all of this, I think the only way forwards is for everyone to realise how important cleaners are, but a good start would be the cleaners themselves to realise it! I’ve met so many women who’ve been ashamed of being a cleaner, for doing the same sorts of stuff that they do at home. In fact, if you’re not doing any cleaning at home then you’ve probably got a good reason to be ashamed as your home’s probably a pigsty. You don’t feel guilty about cleaning at home, so why anywhere else? We’ve got to stop letting the bullies decide for us what we should be proud of and what we shouldn’t.
When we’ve done that and we can say to ourselves that we’re proud of the work that we do then we can start fighting back and defending ourselves against these injustices. There is hope out there, but we’ve got to work on it ourselves.
1) Freedom. There’s a lot of freedom in cleaning. For the most part, you very rarely have a manager, or supervisor on the site breathing down your neck. They only really show up every blue moon to do an audit, or if there’s been complaints (real, or otherwise). So, where does that leave us? Well, generally come ad go as we feel like it. We talk to whoever we want and when we want. We do the jobs that we think need doing, to the standard we reckon’s acceptable, at the pace that we feel comfortable with. This is not to say that we do the bare minimum, but means that we do what we think is fair. After all, we’re there to provide a vital service that benefits our fellow exploited workers. We don’t want them getting MRSA, or Salmonella, not because it’d piss off our managers, but because we genuinely think that should be looking out for our comrades in this big struggle against the employer. We’re paid next to nothing, so we’re not going to go out of our way for our bosses, but that doesn’t change our commitment to the workers at the sites that we clean at.
2) You’re not hurting anyone. Now here’s a rare job these days! How many of us can honestly say that about their jobs? Our job is simple (don’t mistake that with easy by the way). We keep the place clean and hygienic and even do our little bit for saving the planet by helping with recycling. Compare that to sales where you’re churning out useless bits of paper and trying to get people to spend money on stuff they should be entitled to for free anyway, or banking which everyone’s had a life ruined by, the police where it’s your job to punish the most desperate people in our society and so on. I go home every day and I could think to myself happily, “I’ve done my job well today and it’s done nothing but make people’s lives better”. Off the top of my head, only doctors, nurses and those in manufacturing and industrial work could ever say the same thing.
3) When you go home the day’s over. Again, how often do you get that in jobs these days? I’ve been in other industries and I’ve gone home at night and thought to myself “Oh god. What’s going to need doing tomorrow”. You don’t get that in cleaning. You come. You see. You conquer. You leave.
4) Meditation. A strange one perhaps, but I do some of my best thinking at work. There’s not much thinking involved in cleaning, so you let your mind wander through most of it. I might be thinking up new riffs for my guitar and what to have for dinner, right through to pondering whether we should really hate benefit thieves and whether things could have gone differently for the miners in ’84-’85. Meditation doesn’t mean sitting with your legs crossed with incense burning humming “Ommnnnnn”. It simply means to relax yourself and let your mind daydream up answers to problems and that works well for me.
5) Chatting. This ties into the freedom part again, but we can go and do our jobs in any order in any way we feel like on our sites. I chat with the other workers at the site while I’m emptying their bins, or polishing their desks and when we’re doing the dishes, there’ll be one of us washing and the other drying and we’ll have a right good laugh in that kitchen usually. We’ve talked about allsorts in there and it’s good fun.
6) Part time working. My politics mean that I believe in a world where everyone only has to work part time, without managers and without stress in order to be allowed to have anything and everything that the whole of the human race produces. Well, I work part time at least. Working on the other part, which I doubt I’d be able to do if I was working fulltime. In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m in my mid 20’s and I’ve got the “wanting to change the world” bug, which I’ll have to talk about some other time I’m sure. Anyway, my duties to that cause I don’t think I’d be able to squeeze into evenings and weekends, but other people could have other commitments to their weekday daytimes. Whatever the reason, part-time working is good.
7) Health. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, huh? Cleaning is hard work. Every week, thousands of people hand over their wages to gyms so that they can spend a couple of hours bending, squatting, lifting, walking and stretching and generally breaking a sweat. I get paid to do that! Not long after I had started cleaning, I had to visit my GP and told him about my new job. I have never seen a doctor excited before, but on that day the grin on his face went ear to ear as he told me that cleaning is one of the best jobs to do for your health. “Cleaning is excellent cardio-vascular excercise” he told me. And he’s right. This kind of exercise is good for you and I’m being paid to do it! Ha! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it Duncan Bannatyne!
8) The hours. Hang on. Didn’t we have this in the bad stuff too? Yes, it’s true that the hours are anti-social, but these kinds of hours are ideal too if you’re raising children, or after a bit of part-time work to work around another job, or uni studies or something, because it’s before/after the 9 to 5, that most cleaning gets done.
9) Free stuff! This is “naughty”, but I’ll tell you how I justify it. As I’ve already explained, we are robbed by our employers every day as they do not pay us the full value of our labour, despite them not actualy putting anything into the actual service we provide. So, I strongly believe that it is our right to try claw back what is stolen from us any way we can. As a result I have not bought any cleaning products for my own use in the last two years. Is it theft? No. This stuff was bought with money that is rightfully ours, so it already belongs to us. In that way, it’s not free either because we’ve already paid for it, albiet against our will. We’re just taking some of it back. I have no doubt either that the workers who produce these products would welcome the thought of it bieng used for the benefit of workers like themselves. I do want to really put my foot down and say though that people’s personal possessions are a no-no. If somebody’s worked to get some cash, or some nice things for themselves, then I would never ever take those from them. At no point have I ever taken money, or personal possesions from another worker and I would fiercly oppose anyone who did that. I only take what is already rightfully mine.
We’re human beings and we all have our reasons for cleaning. I’ve met cleaners who got into cleaning because no other job was accommodating for them looking after their kids, as most employers outright oppose the idea of flexible working for parents. Other cleaners are students, looking to make a few quid with a part time job, due to new tuition fee costs. Some had other jobs in the daytime and were paying off debts that the bailed out banks were threatening out of them. Personally, I’m half-deaf and I wanted a job where that wouldn’t be a problem.
So, yeah. That’s the good bits in my job and I’m happy with that. Notice carefully too that the bits I enjoy are the bits that management have no control over, while most of the stuff I hate, is the stuff that management mess with. I stress again, that I consider management and employers to be parasites, living of our labour and all they really do is make everyone’s more unpleasant anyway! So, in general, left to our own devices we’re happy and the work gets done. Stick your nose in and all you’ll do is piss us off and you’ll see the place suffer as a result.
Not much to ask really is it? To just leave us alone.