Confessions of a cleaner (2018) – fictional account of a day in the life of a university cleaner, based on real events

Letter

Confessions of a cleaner 

A fictional account of a day in the life of a university cleaner, based on real events

I get up around 3.30am, shower, grab something to eat and then scurry for my first bus due 4.45am. I’m quite lucky because others don’t live where buses run late so they have the added expense of car upkeep. There is never anyone around at that time in the morning (which sometimes worries me, as a woman on her own, in the dark). I hope the bus is on time – I’ve another bus to catch after this. If we are late clocking on at 6am we get chewed out. At least the Union stopped them docking our pay for being late.

I make it off the bus in time for a quick chat with my team in the clock room: if they’re finishing at 9, we won’t see each other once we start work. We go to our buildings and clean for three hours. If we’re seen talking, the non-cleaning staff might comment to the boss and we’ll get in trouble.

They don’t come in until 8am though, so it’s quite lonely without any people around. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but sometimes you’ll be posted in a building where the staff are friendly and don’t mind chatting to you. It’s rare though. Just saying hello with a smile would be nice if we’re a regular face – we’re all human. We’re rotated around a lot to cover leavers and sickness, so that also makes it hard to get to know people. Mind you I don’t blame the leavers, wouldn’t you go elsewhere for more money and being treated better?

I’m full time, so when there are not enough of us, I get sent to where I’m needed after 9am. I’m sent to a new building today to cover someone who’s sick. You’d think managers would understand why we might be sick more often: we’re on our feet scrubbing for hours at a time. You end up with back pain, aching feet, sore knees, not like a desk job. Also, I’m cleaning toilets and get exposed to germs all day.

Yet, we are reluctant to take time off and make ourselves worse, because the managers are really tight when it comes to sickness monitoring. We are paid the least out of all the jobs in the University, so it’s false economy to come down hard on us for being sick compared. My daughter is an admin so I see the differences in management: she takes a day sick and nobody bats an eyelid despite her wage being higher. I took a few days off last month because my flu was so bad I couldn’t get out of bed – I was told if I went sick again in the next six months I’d be hauled up. Now, what if something happens? What if I slip on some ice and can’t get into work?

Speaking of immune systems, did you know, there are rooms on campus where students are going to the toilet in bin bags we have to clean, without any training in removing bodily fluids? Nothing’s been done despite our complaints—no signs saying use the toilets, any extra protective clothing, no training, nothing. We’re expendable. People don’t realise what we have to put up with- even making sure you clean up after yourself would help us. If it was our managers having to move urine filled bin bags I bet something would be done immediately. We don’t have useable cleaning kit as it is: I’ve lost count of the number of people who ask me why the toilets smell. We aren’t given decent products and equipment, is the answer. Complain to the managers, not us, if your areas aren’t up to scratch, we are powerless.

I finish at 2pm. I ache from head to toe – this job doesn’t get any easier and if you pick up an injury, carrying on just makes it worse. It’s payday today but my slip isn’t right. Again. Sometimes I think it’s not worth doing the overtime because I spend a silly amount of time making sure I get paid right for it.

We’re all on monthly pay now, management imposed it on us. I can’t get my head around it. I’m used to
having something to pay each week. There’s still a lot of bad feeling about this – managers thought they
could just roll us onto monthly pay because they didn’t understand how it works when you’re weekly paid. We live hand to mouth; we don’t have savings to get us through until the next pay. I think that causes the most trouble here: you’ve got those above you with no idea how the other half live. They pay us the least, expect the most work from us, and then look surprised when some of us need foodbanks. Come and live my life, Eastwood, you’d have a steep learning curve!

It’s Friday and I’m looking forward to not having to mop until Monday, my shoulders are killing me… just need to put the equipment away and clock out. I appreciate my weekends more than ever now. A while ago we were told we’d be doing weekends on a rota, with no extra pay. Did you know that? Thank you for looking out for us UNISON, is all I can say. The union is so important, particularly when many of us are scared of losing our jobs. We need them more than ever!

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