Authorities in a muddle over leaves in drain

From ‘Who should clear leaves in drain?’ 21 March 2014, ST Forum

(Arthur Lim): THE ineffective clearing of fallen leaves is not just evident along major roads and expressways (“Act promptly to clear fallen leaves” by Dr V. Subramaniam; Tuesday), but also in housing estates. In my estate, the leaves seem to be frequently cleared from areas visible to the eye, but those that are “hidden” under the covered portions of drains are not. This may cause pooling of water and mosquito breeding.

I have raised this issue with the officers who check for mosquito breeding in my estate, but they said their department was not in charge of this. They were not sure if it should come under the National Environment Agency or the PUB.

I hope the relevant authorities will step in to address this issue.

This confusion over who’s in charge of dengue-breeding ‘longkangs’ has existed for at least a decade. In 2005, if the affected drain is in a Housing Board precinct, the town council is responsible. If it’s by the road in a residential estate, either the NEA or PUB is in charge. If it’s in a public park, then NParks needs to pick up the trash.  Filthy drains are like the NEA/AVA tussling over mynahs; nobody wants to claim them, like separated parents each refusing custody over an obnoxious child. Even the source of the leaves, the very trees that line our roads, have different agencies looking after them, NParks or the SLA. Good luck blaming either for negligence when a loose branch falls and knocks you into a month-long coma, which is probably the duration of time needed for someone to finally admit that he’s responsible.

NEA, being the national dengue-buster, received a complaint in 2007 by a member of public about a choked drain along Jalan Loyang Besar, whereby nothing was done for 3 days after reporting the hazard. A second NEA officer then proceeded to refer the caller to the PUB instead. NEA later apologised and announced that the officer who did not abide by this ‘No Wrong Door’ policy was reprimanded for his incompetence. Another resident noticed workers from NEA actually sweeping dried litter and leaves INTO drains. Instead of a joint effort to curb the mosquito nuisance, what happened here was literally one agency pushing the problem to another, or rather, sweeping the problem under the other’s DOOR instead.

The writer of this latest complaint did not mention if the officers he approached were from the NEA or not, and it’s possible that from the time agencies begin their bureaucratic shrugging, finger-pointing and someone finally getting a contractor down, a handful of residents would have been hit by the dengue scourge already.  Since 2008, NEA has led an ‘inter-agency’ dengue taskforce, including the PUB, to keep our drains from turning into festering dengue hotspots. It remains to be seen if officers from the agencies involved even know what the heck is going on, or this collaboration and showcase ‘synergy’ efforts have, well, all gone down the drain. It sounds nice on paper, but it’s beginning to look like a football team where players don’t have a damned clue what their field positions are, and run away when they see a ball coming instead of passing it towards goal.

Perhaps it’s time the Ministry of Environment set up a DRAin Maintenance Authority. Or DRAMA.

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No takers for Sakae Sushi $3K dishwasher job

From ‘$3k a month to wash dishes?They want the job’, 14 Sept 2012, article by Goh Chin Lian, ST

BARELY a day after Sakae Sushi confirmed an offer to pay dishwashers $3,000 a month, some 300 enquiries and applications have poured in. They came after the restaurant chain made headlines for saying it could not get workers at that salary, which is more than twice what an average dishwasher earns.

Yesterday, the company gave more details while urging only “serious” applicants to contact it. “We would like to emphasise that this position includes other cleaning responsibilities, not just dishwashing, and is very physically demanding,” it said in a Facebook post.

Brand and communications manager Gregg Lewis said the dishwashers need to work 12 hours a day, six days a week – from 10.30am to 10.30pm with breaks. This differed slightly from the nine hours a day that Sakae Sushi chief Douglas Foo had told the media previously.

…The latest news about a 72-hour week sparked a fresh round of debate, with some netizens wondering whether it flouted the Employment Act. This says workers cannot work for more than 44 hours a week, excluding overtime and breaks. Mr Foo said last night that the $3,000 package includes overtime pay for the extra hours and does not contravene the Act.

…Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam commented on Facebook: “Sakae Sushi boss says they are offering $3,000 per month for dishwashers but can’t find people?” Said National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Ong Ye Kung: “I am surprised at $3,000 there are no takers.”

The success of Sakae’s business model of selling tiny plates of Japanese food at low prices depends on how quickly you can turn over your plates to keep a moving conveyor belt stocked. In 1987, you could be a dishwasher for more than a decade in a hotel restaurant but still earn a measly $700 a month, which is almost a quarter of what Sakae Sushi offers today. Compare this to sweepers and cleaners earning less than $500 per month back in 1982, a pay packet that’s almost the same as what some toilet cleaners STILL get in 2010 ($600), 28 YEARS LATER. If you look at basic salaries of other low-wage workers THIS year alone, the $3K deal may also be attractive to supermarket assistants ($1140), cleaners (a shocking $500 a month) and even security guards ($1000), as long as you’re willing to absorb the backbreaking 72 hours strain.

But it’s not just other low-wage workers that Foo may be drawing into his kitchens with this sumptuous offer. In 2009, the New Paper reported a range of relatively higher-skilled jobs which pay less per month compared to Sakae dishwashing, including being a PRE-SCHOOL teacher, hospital attendant and lorry driver. It even pays better than being an SBS driver (up to $1600), or a server/chef ($1500, $2000) in an Indian restaurant. If this trend spreads to other eateries, the typical dining experience would be sparkling glasses and cutlery but crappy food and service because all the decent waiters and chefs have turned to the dishwashing business to pay the rent. I’d also have trouble taking my date home in a cab or bus, or finding a urinal that isn’t flooded to the brim with piss, for the same reason.

It’s interesting to see who these 300 applicants are, and this public appeal for dishwashers may be siphoning skilled labour out of other industries where important, though low paying, work still needs to be done.  Perhaps K Shanmugam shouldn’t just view Sakae’s salary in isolation as a sweet deal, suggesting that it’s madness not to snap up the offer, without reviewing how this will skew the labour force if spun out of control. As Law Minister he should also realise how Foo is stretching the number of working hours allowable in the Employment Act to its limit (12 hours a day, one rest day a week). A minute of overtime more and he’d be fined for slave-driving. It’s also against the law to work more than 72 hours of overtime in a MONTH, and you do 28 hours of OT a week alone as a Sakae dishwasher, at supposedly 1.5 times the hourly basic pay. If you do the math, assuming a base hourly rate of $10 an hour, that equals 10×44 = $440 a week’s base pay or $1760 a month. With the additional OT pay of ($15 an hour) $1080 from a maximum of 72 hours a month, you get a total of $2840, just below $3K. So as attractive as $3K sounds the way Foo and ministers spin it, you’d have to consider whether a rate of roughly $1o/hr is worth your while.

However, endorsing long hours for seemingly higher pay just seems contradictory to this work-life balance the rest of the PAP is pushing in the name of procreation. Like what unskilled jobs are paying, talk is cheap, and nobody will take the government’s word for more family time seriously if nobody’s going to amend the Employment Act. If the minister thinks this job opportunity is too good to miss, perhaps he should give it a shot himself before recommending it to Singaporeans, though it’s something some leaders may actually excel in, considering how they always tend to ‘wash their hands’ off important matters or ‘wash dirty linen’ of Opposition politicians in public.

Singapore is a grubby, trash-laden metropolis

From ‘Cleanliness on the decline’, 28 June 2011, ST Forum

(James Cruikshank): I AM a Canadian who visited Singapore in 1995 for two weeks. It was the cleanest city I had ever been to. I came back a year later, and again was impressed by how immaculate the country was.

I returned on June 2 this year to enjoy Singapore’s famous food and the Great Singapore Sale, but was very disappointed. The cleanliness of the city is gone. I spent days walking and taking public transport to various parts of the city, and noticed an appalling amount of paper and plastic rubbish in the parks and on the streets.

I asked those I met why there was a litter problem, and one common comment was that it was due to the people’s attitude. Another common response was: ‘It’s the immigrants.’

…I soon witnessed acts of littering and it infuriated me. A woman with her teenage son and daughter tossed a green plastic drink bag over a railing onto the grass. I yelled at her from down the street, but she just laughed. I saw a construction worker walking past a rubbish bin and placing a can on a wall a farther 10m away, before continuing on his way.

It really upsets me to see the once-pristine Singapore turning into just another grubby, trash-laden metropolis. This litter problem is a blight on Singapore’s reputation, and I hope Singaporeans will address this disrespect for their country.

One way is for people to take all rubbish with them after leaving public places and place it in a trash bin, and not on the ground, a wall, a bench or in the park. Community groups can get together to clean up the streets in their neighbourhoods. The city can promote cleanliness through mass media campaigns.

Has it come to this? That we Singaporeans have become so environmentally hopeless that we need a Canadian to give us a step by step guide to how to throw rubbish (place it in a trash bin)? Overcrowding is a key factor, and perhaps the ‘immigrant’ finger-pointers are on to something, though what’s sorely lacking in us as a people, is pride in our surroundings. Kudos to the writer here for the daring-do to tick off litterers and taking us for children when the enforcers  and ministry are sleeping on the job, though having volunteers to pick the streets clean will only fuel the servant mentality endemic in our people; that it’s someone else’s job, not ours. The secret to our once honorable reputation as a garden city is an army of foreign labour to do the dirty work behind the scenes, not  fines or campaigns, and even that can’t save us now. I’ve noticed the changes myself over the years; Rubbish bins overflow over weekends, people dump old furniture and obsolete gadgets at the void deck, empty bubble tea plastic cups get left all over the place, rats as big as kittens near kopitiams. A disgraceful accumulation of waste and vermin brought about by rampant affluence and complacent consumerism infecting a generation utterly dependent on maids and cleaners, taking for granted that someone will clear up the mess the next day anyway.  We don’t leave our stuff lying around at home, which goes to show how much we treat our country as one.

It’s interesting to see how foreigners have viewed us over the years, take some time to reflect on how we were once rated the ‘cleanest city in the world’, and ask ourselves ‘What the hell happened, Singapore?’

Untitled, 29 Jan 1972, ST, H.F Frost, London

Singapore seems well on its way to being the cleanest city in Asia

Looking forward to this, our fourth visit, 9 April 1981, ST, E.H Day, Australia

We have found Singapore to be without rival in the ranking for the world’s cleanest city

Japanese couple has nothing but praise, 15 Dec 1984, ST, S Kikuchi, Japan

My wife and I are from Japan. We love your beautiful and clean country. Your people are so friendly.

Surprises in City of Inspiration, 8 July1985, ST,  Richard Barone, USA

It is still the cleanest city of its size I have ever seen. It is still a shopper’s and a sun lover’s paradise.

Singapore, a mini world worth visiting, 9 March 1988, ST, Elizabeth Goldsworthy, South Pacific:

Singapore is an exciting kaleidoscope, a mini world worth visiting, to replenish the soul. Clean, green and beautiful…a sense of safety and security…

The origin of the 5 cents toilet entrance fee

From ‘Visit marred by dirty loo in People’s Park’, 3 April 2011, Your Letters, Sunday Times

(Brenda Scofield): My frequent visits to Singapore are a pleasure knowing in so many ways, especially knowing that toilets here have excellent facilities. So imagine my surprise when , in People’s Park Complex last week, I was charged to use a toilet and charged again for toilet paper!

…The facilities were quite dreadful, dirty and smelly. Obviously, no one was taking care of the place. Later that evening, I was in Ion Orchard and was delighted to find facilities like those in a five-star hotel. What on earth happened at People’s Park Complex?

…My advice? Drink little if you are heading to People’s Park, then hotfoot it out of there to somewhere reflecting Singapore’s well deserved reputation for spotless facilities.

The complainant forgot to mention that Ion toilets are also free of charge. Herein lies the contradiction; you pay more for a dirty toilet than a serviceable, five-star one. Which could mean a few things, that the People’s Park sanitary management stinks as much as their loos, that patrons of Ion Orchard are more socially responsible than those at People’s Park, or Ion’s cleaners are highly motivated, better paid individuals with an overwhelming sense of duty and pride in their work. Or it could just be that Ion’s toilets are newer than People’s Park, which  could have been in existence ever since the first disappearances of bullock carts from the streets of Chinatown, which makes such comparisons unfair since nasty, broken down toilets are a necessary side effect of People’s Park preserving its Old World charm. Perhaps what we’re really paying for, based on a common, oxymoronic observance that paid toilets are older and grimier than free ones, is the upkeep of facilities which tenants can’t afford to overhaul.

One also needs to question the effectiveness of charging for toilet use, whether the very act of having to pay an infinitesimal sum of 10 cents gives the user a sense of entitlement to use the facilities in any way they please, since they’re putting money in the pockets of people whose jobs are to clean up after them.  As for advocates of exorbitant toilet fee charging, the only reason why that would keep toilets clean is because nobody would pay to use it, and users would only bring their filthy potty habits elsewhere. It’s the typical ‘maid mentality ‘at work when people no longer value personal responsibility over one’s surroundings and begin layering the seats with excessive toilet paper until it attains the right bounce of a plush cushion, blasting their sticky snot all over the sides of basins without washing them down, or choking urinals with used Band-aids and pubic twine such that the next person using it would be afraid of flushing it and thus leave his stink behind, assuming the flush works that is. Which brought me to the question of why, and when, we decided to make people fork out money just to answer the call of nature.

It probably started from a typhoid outbreak, a disease unheard of these days, and a complaint letter from a ‘Concerned citizen’ below (So much cleaner after outbreak of typhoid, 25 Feb 1971, ST).

And here below was the response from the Department of Public Cleansing (Untitled, 22 March 1971, ST). It would be interesting to know if ‘Concerned Citizen’ is still alive 40 years after giving his ‘five cents worth’, an example of a complaint having significant impact on the state of public toilets everywhere. The charge may have risen by only 5 cents within that time span in most places, but our sense of communal hygiene, in spite of our reputation as tech-savvy, highly educated people,  is still as appalling as ever.

Female cleaners in male toilets

From ‘ Mind the gender in toilet cleaning’, 3 Feb 2011, ST Forum online

(Seow Joo Heng): OFTEN, we see female cleaners being employed to clean all toilets, including men’s toilets; and male inspectors inspecting all, including women’s toilets.

Obviously, this arrangement causes inconvenience and embarrassment to both users and cleaners.

Let us give some respect to all, especially the female cleaners, with just a bit of common sense: all cleaning processes involving men’s toilets can be handled by men, and women’s toilets by women.

A counter argument that this will then increase manpower costs should not hold water.

Perhaps instead on complaining about getting caught shaking off the last drops of pee at the urinal by female cleaners  one should consider that these workers are picking up our shit after us and it’s unreasonable to expect that, in this line of work with a possibly askew gender distribution, males can only clean male toilets and vice versa for female cleaners. What if there were only one cleaner on shift that day because her male colleague fell sick from clearing up someone’s liquid poo-margeddon the previous night? Would you rather the toilet be left in a state of  after-party faecal desecration, shit splattered and compacted that you would need tongs to fish out formidably rock-hard stools or unflushable condoms, swirling with noxious fart vapour so repellent and persistent your 15 minute lunch will taste exactly like the undigested discards of all toilet users combined? You spend no more than 5 minutes doing your business, these folks make sure you don’t slip on urine for more than 8 toxic hours a day. Show some understanding for god’s sake.

It’s a dirty, hazardous job really, and it’s understandable if toilet cleaners are an angry, disgruntled bunch who, being exposed to all manners of excrement, spit and pubic hairs in the course of a day, wouldn’t care less about your modesty even if you’re so well endowed that you have to stand an arm’s length away from the urinal just to relieve yourself. Best pee with caution, you know, adopting the usual stance of head and hands down, not hands behind your head whistling and cooing with pleasure. After all, it’s not just female cleaners one has to watch out for barging into our toilets, it’s also fathers who bring in their girls as well, as seen in this letter ‘Modesty issues at the urinals’, 26 June 2007, Today.

 

 

 

One cloth to wipe them all

From Concern over cleaning practice at mall eatery 18 Feb 2010, ST Forum Online

After wiping the cutlery, he (the cleaner) used the same cloth to wipe the tables and clear the dirty dishes. It was unclear if he had used the same cloth to wipe the tables before that. However, the fact that he used the same cloth to wipe the tables after cleaning the cutlery suggests he had only one cloth to clean everything.

Reason enough for a campaign to start getting people to clear their trays?

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