Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dusting a Living

Every day after I have gone home from work, an army of cleaners arrives to cleanse our office of a day's worth of filth deposited by several dozen slovenly media professionals.
I've never stayed late enough to see them. I only have the word of my employers that they come: hunch-backed in their industrial tabards, tired from their bus journeys from the grimmer suburbs, they push their Henry hoovers across the floor and run their dusters across my keyboard. The very keyboard that earns me a tidy graduate wage as I sip tea at my ergonomic desk in my futuristic mesh chair. It is fortunate I have not met these people, as I have a deep aversion to watching anyone clear up after me. Lazy though I am, the thought of someone on bended knee scratching a toilet bowl in my wake is horrifying. A bit like asking a stranger to give you a sponge bath. There is something intimate, a little shameful about my dirt, the dust I spread, my filthy handprints on the computer screen. I'll clean it myself thank you very much. Sit down and and have a rest, Mavis.
Nonetheless, it is lowly, invisible cleaners like these who make our lives tolerable. Nobody notices that they have been - the absence of dirt is unremarkable in a regularly cleaned office or house. But everyone notices when they haven't. Bins overflow. Toilets back up. Washing baskets creak and stink. Kitchen sinks turn brown with tea stains.
Which is precisely why these cleaners deserve to be valued: not in the form of a patronising Christmas bonus, but with an honest living wage. I was moved by the experience of the poverty-wages cleaners at John Lewis Oxford Street, who, facing severe cuts to jobs and hours, held a "noisy protest" outside the store at the weekend. I can barely survive on £28k in London, let alone £6.08 an hour with irregular and uncertain shifts.
John Lewis has been able to sidestep responsibility for the low-pay scandal (hardly in line with their goody-two-shoes image) because the cleaners are subcontracted through a separate company. The cleaners' union said the company only won the contract because it promised services at a price it could not deliver without cutting jobs and hours.
And this situation is set to get worse - as more and more services in the public sector are contracted out (see: those lovely health service reforms) we are going to see more of the same. And more politicians shunting responsibility.
The recent bus strike over Olympic bonuses was a classic example - Boris claimed to be powerless as the buses are run by a private company. It was their fault, obviously. The bus service is only his responsibility when he's getting rid of bendy buses and introducing Routemasters and posing for press photographs. Not when things actually get tricky. Running a capital city is so easy when you've contracted it out.
So, hats off the those John Lewis cleaners bashing their brooms and bottles of Mr Muscle outside the company's flagship store. Let their protest ring in the ears of people buying £60 perfumes and £350 Samsonite suitcases on expertly hoovered carpets. Let it ring in the ears of the mums in the baby-change booths as they drop another disposable nappy into the emptied bins. Let it ring in the conscience of those John Lewis managers when they share the year's spoils among the company's partners.

1 comment:

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