He is cleaner and cleaning supervisor rolled into one

Mr Moktar, who is a cleaning supervisor, took upon himself to clean Block 123 when his elderly colleague could not manage.
Mr Moktar, who is a cleaning supervisor, took upon himself to clean Block 123 when his elderly colleague could not manage.PHOTO: MARINE PARADE TOWN COUNCIL

"I just want to do my work," says a Bangladeshi who has found himself in the centre of a social media storm, over a poster.

The intriguing poster posted on a noticeboard at Block 123, Geylang East Avenue 1, shows two pictures of the man who goes by one name, Moktar - one labelled as "Cleaner" and the other as "Cleaning Supervisor".

Some wondered if it was a hoax, while others made fun of it as an example of "ownself check ownself", which references how the opposition has characterised the ruling People's Action Party in recent years.

The Marine Parade Town Council (MPTC) confirmed last week in a Facebook post that it is true - yes, he is both the cleaner and the supervisor, but added that he reports to a site manager, who oversees his work.

It lauded him as an unsung hero and even suggested: "So, if you see Moktar around, do say 'Hi!'."

His newfound fame, as some residents responded to the suggestion, has made him uncomfortable and he says he prefers to go unrecognised. "I a bit shy; all these people come to me to say hello. I just want to do my work," Mr Moktar told The Straits Times in broken English.

"Some of them saying not so good things about me," said Mr Moktar, who was upset that people are making fun of him online.


It turns out that the diligent Mr Moktar, who supervises the cleaning work for Blocks 120 to 134, had started cleaning Block 123 of his own accord after he realised his elderly colleague in charge of it could not meet the standards of residents.

Mr Moktar told ST: "People complain to my boss, and I don't want to give my boss trouble. So I start to do, so no more complaining."

When his company, Theng Liang Lee Services, realised that Mr Moktar was taking over the duties for the block, they decided to let him handle it, and paid him an extra $300, on top of his $1,600 salary.

The extra money surprised Mr Jolovan Wham, the former executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, who said Mr Moktar is an outlier for having been compensated.

He said: "I have met dozens of workers from different housing estates who are usually paid between $400 and $600 a month, but work up to 16 hours a day."

He added that while usually wages are left to workers and employers to hash out, most of these workers have little bargaining power.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that foreign workers are informed about the various avenues for help. It added that workers with claims are also briefed and made aware that they can approach MOM for help.

The chairman of MPTC and Member of Parliament (Mountbatten), Mr Lim Biow Chuan, said the town council could have made it clearer that Mr Moktar reports to a site manager. He said: "But we learn to laugh at ourselves... and learn to improve on our communication."

Mr Moktar has been in Singapore for 11 years. Throughout those years, he has always been a conservancy cleaner, moving up the ladder with time, he said.

Mr Moktar, who lives in Paya Lebar, reports to work at about 7am and ends work at around 5pm, with an hour off for lunch.

When asked about his work load, he said his superiors generally trust him to get the job done. He said: "My boss don't tell me I must do this or I must do that. If got complaint, I will go check. But other than that, I do my best."

When asked why not hire someone else to clean Block 123 instead, a representative of Theng Liang Lee Services spoke of the difficulty in hiring quality workers.

He said that due to the quota that foreigners make up no more than 40 per cent of the labour force in the cleaning sector, the company needs to turn to locals. However, most who apply are elderly and unable to handle the job, which was the reason why there were complaints.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said the foreign worker quota protects a vulnerable group of local workers who can only work as cleaners and ensures these jobs are available to them.

He added: "To attract younger workers to be cleaners, companies must offer better pay and employment benefits."

Mr Moktar plans on going home this September to see his family. He does not miss them that much because he keeps in touch with daily phone calls. He has two sons - aged five and one - and tries to go back once or twice a year. But still when he does ache for his family, he gets permission to return. He said: "When I sad, I just ask my boss for leave and I go back to Bangladesh."

Correction note: This story has been edited to correct the percentage of foreigners who make up the labour force in the cleaning sector. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'He is cleaner and cleaning supervisor rolled into one'. Print Edition | Subscribe