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A Sociology Undergraduate Goes Undercover As A Cleaner

A Sociology Undergraduate Goes Undercover As A Cleaner

So, what does it really feel like to be in the shoes of a low-wage worker? And that too, a cleaner in an always populated hawker centre?


We set out on this social experiment, and decided to get a young student on this – to get her hands dirty on what a day at work is like for a cleaner.

No, we are not saying that the younger generation is all unappreciative of these lowest paid jobs. Certainly, many of them can empathise with their work conditions and are becoming more aware of these quiet everyday heroes among us.

What we wanted to get from this whole experiment were the young lady’s thoughts. And perhaps, this video and her rendition of her after-thoughts could wake more in the public on the job of a cleaner.

A Day In The Life

We deliberately chose the Golden Shoe Food Centre, located right in the smack of the Central Business District. For the variety of local favourites it offers, at very affordable ‘non-CBD’ prices, it attracts flocks of the working crowd during the lunch hours.


So, we had the student – Cheng Kai Ting, a third year Sociology undergraduate from the Nanyang Technological University and a TIN influencer. Maybe the idea appealed to her because of her course of study. Or maybe, to start with, she had a soft spot for cleaners. We were going to find out anyway.

Madam Soong Lai Chee, 62 years old, a Cleaner employed by Clean Solutions Private Limited was also game enough to be on a video – although she kept shying away from camera – isn’t this a norm with many of our cleaners? All they want is to do their jobs well, and walk away quietly? But we think it’s time we shout out loud about their thankless jobs, and them. And start thanking them.

Advocating for Low Wage Workers’ Rights

There are some voices out there that are already shouting out loud about these low-wage workers’, their jobs and exploring on what more can be done for them.

Member of Parliament for Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC, Mr Zainal Sapari, who is also from NTUC is one of them. He heads NTUC’s U Care Centre, which has been pushing for better jobs, better pay and greater respect for these workers.


Referring to Budget 2015, while there are many new benefits for the low wage workers (LWW), Zainal calls for more outreach effort to ensure that the workers know what is out there for them.

I would like to call on the government to ensure that the implementation of these initiatives is not limited by a lack of information on the part of the LWW. We cannot assume that they would know and take the initiative to bring this new information to them. There are some areas which I feel that LWW may not be aware of which may limit the benefit of our policies.

In the area of CPF, LWW should be made aware on the importance of their Medisave/Medishield accounts in CPF with regards to healthcare expense management, and the usage of CPF beyond paying for housing loans. Mature LWWs may also lack knowledge in managing their retirement savings. Even for the recently announced SkillsFuture initiative, it is imperative that advice be given to low wage workers to help them maximize the full benefits. This information may seem readily available, but in the struggle of our low wage workers to work as much as possible to earn what they can – this information may sadly find itself lost in transition).

Back to our social experiment at Golden Shoe Food Centre.

Kai Ting was early for the project. She was donned in track shoes and had her hair tied up in pony tails. Madam Soong and she had a chat for a while – the elderly worker needed time to warm up with her ‘co-worker’ for the lunch hour.


She briefed Kai Ting first, on how she uses her ‘tools of the trade’, what she would have to know at her fingertips and other rules to remember. Because after all, these cleaners are also providing customer service, and they are always so mindful of how the public sees them. Tough enough are their jobs, and the fact that they have to be so aware of their social space makes it even tougher.

Lunch hour was nearing, and we were hitting almost 11am; and we felt it would be good for Kai Ting to get a feel of the whole routine once. The bubbly young lady changed into a set of uniform and was ready to take up the gauntlet. We wanted this to get as close as the real job role as possible.


Because the sweat, fatigue and hardship behind the light smiles, when someone nods in appreciation are all real.

Video Link

Writer: Deensey Yew

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