Loo awards show cleaners' efforts cannot go to waste with low wages and little respect

Cleaning assistants Ms Tan Joo Hiang (left) and Madam Yu Lee Wah with their Let’s Observe Ourselves (LOO) awards given by The Restroom Association on Nov 17, 2017.
Cleaning assistants Ms Tan Joo Hiang (left) and Madam Yu Lee Wah with their Let’s Observe Ourselves (LOO) awards given by The Restroom Association on Nov 17, 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Singapore’s reputation for neatness may rest on their shoulders, but cleaning assistants have to put up with low wages, while earning little respect for their efforts. These issues were highlighted at the Lets Observe Ourselves (Loo) Awards on Friday (Nov 17) at Our Tampines Hub.

“We must know the face behind keeping our toilets clean,” said Mr Desmond Choo, Mayor of the North East District, who was guest of honour at the awards. “Behind that face are wages that are not particularly high,” he added. 

Ms Tan Puay Hoon, president of the Restroom Association (Singapore), also pointed to a mindset that Singapore needs to change. “Telling our children if they don’t study, they are going to become cleaners is very wrong. We need to teach children in school to respect cleaners,” she told The Straits Times. 

There were 42 winners in the ninth edition of the awards in the run-up to World Toilet Day on Sunday. Some of the winners were nominated by their peers.  

Ms Saraspathy Balakisna, a 38-year-old cleaning assistant at Marina Bay Sands, said: “I feel very happy and proud of my job today – it’s the first time in my life receiving an award.”

The toilet at Sentosa Beach Station was picked as Happy Toilet of the Year by a panel of three judges.  

Other restrooms that were named Best Happy Toilets included those at 21 Street Eating House, Kopitiam Food Court at National University Hospital, Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. 

There were also platinum and gold stars for schools promoting sanitary hygiene. Pupils at Qihua Primary School received a platinum star for their toilet inspector initiative where pupils use iPads to survey restrooms in the school to ensure their cleanliness.

“I’ve noticed the toilets have become cleaner since I started working as a toilet inspector,” Gobinnish Rajasekaran, 10, said. His schoolmate Nur Syahindah Binte Tarjudin, also 10, said: “It annoys me when people don’t flush the toilet.”

The issue of cleaners’ salaries still lurked. For example, Mr Choo highlighted the work of Madam Yu Lee Wah, a 66-year-old cleaning assistant at Marina Bay Sands with 24 years of experience. She said she is delighted that her current employer pays her an allowance of $200 on top of $1,400 a month.

Salaries like Madam Yu’s are on the higher side for cleaning assistants. 

Ms Tan said: “The pay is still not good so we are unable to attract younger people... but there is social value in what cleaning assistants do – without them, Singapore would not be clean.” 

Mr Choo added:“How far Singapore has progressed will not just be shown by the beautiful buildings, but how clean our toilets are too.”