The Sunday Times says

Help workers down in dumps

A cleaner resting in the bin centre at Block 125, Pending Road in Bukit Panjang.
A cleaner resting in the bin centre at Block 125, Pending Road in Bukit Panjang. PHOTO: ST FILE

Foreign workers hired to keep housing estates spick and span should not have to live in rubbish bin centres, surrounded by waste. Of course, there is a whiff of truth in claims that the workers are just resting there, given their long working hours. In other cases, they might choose to make it a dwelling to avoid the cramped conditions of accommodation elsewhere, or the cost of an approved dormitory that is deducted from their pay, or perhaps some travel inconvenience. The bin centres here might be relatively clean, compared to those in less developed countries, but they are still unfit for human habitation. Cleaners deserve better after labouring day in and day out to ensure the estates they serve do not resemble a giant dump because of littering, careless disposal of commercial waste, or public hygiene lapses.

That this phenomenon is two decades old shows just how entrenched is the tendency to create an invisible cordon sanitaire around menial labour, particularly of the "dirty" kind. Many just want their surroundings to be kept clean around the clock without wanting to know just how it is being done. When egregious bin centre cases crop up, there might be a round of checks and action; but things tend to slip back into a state of blissful ignorance over time. Living in such surroundings offends the sense of both human hygiene and dignity. Just as it would be unconscionable to allow guards to live in some nook on the premises, cleaners too should be protected from below-par living conditions. A commitment to making changes for the better in this area could spur a broader effort to review the recruitment fees, wage issues and work conditions that burden this group of essential workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Help workers down in dumps'. Print Edition | Subscribe