Vic­timised, over­worked and un­der­paid school clean­ers feel like sec­ond-class cit­i­zens

– more calls made for gov’t to act

Stabroek News Sunday - - GLOBAL GOSSIP - By Olu­a­toyin Al­leyne

Five days a week, 50-yearold Patsy (not her real name) goes to work and toils for six hours, some­times more, and at the end of the month she takes home $35,000 which is not suf­fi­cient to sus­tain her and her mi­nor son.

In an­other re­gion, 55year-old Carol (not her real name) toils at the same job, she takes home $45,000 but this is also not enough to sup­port her.

Both women are sweeper/clean­ers who for years have been short-changed by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments. They all toil for five days a week and are paid vary­ing salaries, which are be­low the min­i­mum wage of $50,000. Back in 2013 a PPP/C Cab­i­net made a de­ci­sion which called for th­ese work­ers to be paid the gov­ern­ment min­i­mum wage which at the time was $35,000.

Both women re­fused to have their iden­ti­ties re­vealed ex­plain­ing that they are afraid of vic­tim­iza­tion.

“Some­times I does feel like we is sec­ond-class cit­i­zens be­cause I don’t un­der­stand how we sup­pose to make it on this salary and then is not a fair thing, some mak­ing less some mak­ing more,” Patsy told the Sun­day Stabroek in an in­ter­view.

Her cry is echoed by many of her col­leagues, some of whom re­cently took to the streets to press their cause and while the Guyana Pub­lic Ser­vice Union (GPSU) has been en­gag­ing the gov­ern­ment on the is­sue, there seems to be no light at the end of the tun­nel for the af­fected work­ers.

Red Thread is one of the or­gan­i­sa­tions which for years has been high­light­ing the plight of sweeper/clean­ers. One of its of­fi­cers, Win­tress White, re­cently pointed out that the women are work­ing more hours than their con­tract stip­u­lated, but are only paid for the con­tracted hours.

“They are also do­ing what we would call ‘jan­calan’ work in the sense that if a head­mistress wants food they send the sweeper/cleaner; if they ac­ci­den­tally make a cup of wa­ter fall down the sweep/cleaner have to clean it,” White told the Sun­day Stabroek.

She pointed out the clean­ing work is “hard work” and is “real work” and as such they should be paid “real money.”

Fur­ther, White ques­tioned why the sweeper/clean­ers are not paid dur­ing the July/Au­gust hol­i­days the same way teach­ers are not­ing that it would be dif­fi­cult for the mainly sin­gle par­ent moth­ers to sur­vive with­out their salaries dur­ing those months.

This sit­u­a­tion also cre­ates a ma­jor dif­fi­culty for the moth­ers with schoolaged chil­dren to get them pre­pared for the September term. Ad­di­tion­ally, some of the sweeper/clean­ers are asked to go into school for a few days dur­ing the hol­i­day pe­riod and are paid a few thou­sand dol­lars while oth­ers are not paid.

“How can you af­ford to send your chil­dren to school on that lit­tle money and worse yet on no money at all? What are they sup­posed to eat, is this what you call car­ing for chil­dren?” she ques­tioned, adding that for some of the women it is their only means of in­come.

The women are not pro­vided with safety equip­ment such as nose guards or gloves; in one case a cleaner was forced to pur­chase clean­ing ma­te­rial.

White said the gov­ern­ment can­not claim that it cares for chil­dren when it does not care for their par­ents’ labour.

‘Grace of God’

Patsy has been work­ing as a sweeper/cleaner since 2010. She has a teenage son who is still de­pen­dent on her and ac­cord­ing to the woman many months it is only by the “grace of God” that she sur­vives. When she got the job, she worked for $18,000 a month and it was later in­creased to $24,000 and in 2015 to $37,000.

“I am sup­posed to work three hours in the morn­ing and three hours in the af­ter­noon but some­times, es­pe­cially in the af­ter­noon, I don’t fin­ish in three hours,” Patsy said.

She ex­plained that at the sec­ondary school where she is em­ployed there are two clean­ers and she is as­signed to clean the bot­tom flat. The bot­tom flat has seven class­rooms, six toi­lets out­side, which are used by the chil­dren, and two on the inside used by the teach­ers and a lab.

Un­der her con­tract, she must sweep, wipe the walls as far as her hands can reach, mop the class­rooms and wash hand tow­els.

“But nuff days is just too much for me alone and they have a cleaner, who is on full time and she cleans up­stairs and is not much work like me. I get­ting less money but do­ing more work,” the woman com­plained.

It was the same com­plaint Carol had. She be­lieves that the head teacher at her sec­ondary school favours the other cleaner and this sees her be­ing dis­ad­van­taged.

“Some­times I does want give up but wah I guh do at this age? I don’t have to mind any chil­dren but I have to mind me self and where I liv­ing is not even propa but I got to try. I just wish the gov­ern­ment could pay a lil more,” Carol pleaded.

Both Patsy and Carol also com­plained about the way they are treated by some of the teach­ers at their schools. They con­firmed what White from Red Thread said about be­ing asked to do chores out­side of their con­tracts and be­ing vic­tim­ized when they refuse.

“The teach­ers are call­ing you to do what you are not sup­posed to do. [They] want you to wash their ta­ble cloth, wipe their ta­bles and when it not clean, they writ­ing it in the book and send to the min­istry. They eat­ing and throw­ing things on the floor, teach­ers are do­ing that and you have to pick it up,” Patsy re­vealed.

“But I does tell them they could do what they want and write me up be­cause this job ain’t get me so big so they could do what they want,” an up­set Patsy said.

Carol said she has been asked to go on the road and pur­chase items for teach­ers and while she does not mind at times at other times “it get over­bear­ing they want you walk in the hot sun, some­times you ain’t even had a propa break­fast but they send­ing you out.”

Patsy said at times she has to de­pend on her adult son and daugh­ter for as­sis­tance but they can­not do it on a con­sis­tent ba­sis, so many months she and her son strug­gle.

“I don’t pay rent but if you see this old house I live in, it get so much holes but I don’t have money to do any­thing to it. The money I get­ting is not enough and I ask­ing the gov­ern­ment to pay we more, we need it is not like we don’t need it,” the woman pleaded.


An­other Red Thread of­fi­cer, Su­san Col­ly­more, told the Sun­day Stabroek that the sweeper/clean­ers are re­ally taken ad­van­tage of as some of the head teach­ers use the con­tracts as weapons against the clean­ers. They would force them to be at their beck and call by threat­en­ing to have the con­tracts with­drawn.

“If the clean­ers don’t do what they say then they would say re­mem­ber I got this con­tract…,” Col­ly­more said adding that she be­lieves the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion should have a say in the con­tracts signed and the terms and con­di­tions un­der which the sweeper/clean­ers are em­ployed.

The sweeper/clean­ers are also de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to com­plain about un­fair threat­en­ing and are of­ten re­minded that it is the head teacher who signs the con­tract. She pointed out that if the clean­ers don’t pick up after the head teach­ers by some­times flush­ing the toi­lets when they use it or pur­chas­ing bread for them they are pe­nal­ized.

White added that the clean­ers are also vic­tim­ized by head teach­ers cutting their time. She called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to fix the is­sue as while it was cre­ated be­fore 2015, it has now been over two years and needs to be fixed now.

“You prom­ise us a good life but it seems that a good life only mean them, we ain’t see it yet only you all see it be­cause you all in­crease your salaries and you all take money that you could give poor people and build D’Ur­ban Park,” an up­set White said.

She pointed out that D’Ur­ban Park was not needed since Guyana al­ready has a Na­tional Sta­dium adding that while in op­po­si­tion the gov­ern­ment was against the Mar­riott but now it is in of­fice money is be­ing spent on the ho­tel.

“So, you can’t tell poor people fool­ish­ness that you ain’t got money, find the money, it is there. You find it and pay the sweeper/clean­ers what they sup­posed to get,” she de­manded point­ing out that the cost of liv­ing is go­ing up steadily.

“In­vest the money in fam­i­lies… pay people good wages in­stead of giv­ing them hand-me-downs. It is funny the way how people does treat poor people like we cause this poor­ness on our­selves and is not the sys­tem that was cre­ated to sup­press and keep poor people poor,” White said.

She said there was so much hope that there would have been change when the new gov­ern­ment came into power but to date there has been no real change that im­pacted the lives of per­sons pos­i­tively.

Win­tress White

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