Whilst I do it without complaint and in the spirit of Karma Yoga (most of the time) I cannot argue that it is an entirely pleasant task. Cleaning toilets brings you up close and personal with people's bodily intimacies. And as I was cleaning yesterday, pulling hair out of shower traps and scrubbing stains off of toilet bowls, I jokingly said "Cleaners should get paid the most, not the least. Cleaners literally clean up other people's shit!"
I thought about all the hotels with their small armies of domestic staff who arrive when we've gone out for the day and transform the room from the wet-towel-strewn chaos we leave back to the pristine way it looked when we arrived on day one. And it usually done without us noticing or even meeting the human face behind the service. But this anonymous person has an intimate view of our habits, bodily functions and quietly, sensitively and unquestioningly cleans away our filth to make us more comfortable.
For minimum wage.
£6.19 per hour (£4.98 if you're 18-20 and only £3.68 if you're under 18. Apprentices get £2.65)
And it made me think of a news item that caught my attention over the past week or so. Sadly, despite it being only a week old, when I tried to search for it on Google it was pretty buried. It was about the wages received by cleaners in government departments in London. Who are also, many of them, on minimum wage.
A question I have always returned to in my mind is - how come the person sitting behind the desk is considered to be worth more that the person who cleans that desk?
Some would consider this a naive question in the context of "The Economy" which I confess is something else I don't really understand. Whilst I can acknowledge it intellectually, my inherent sense of fairness creates an emotional block.
Of course the reasons reflect what we value. It's a simplistic view but it is also true that the people who earn the most money in our economy are the ones who make and move and manipulate the money. The people who earn the least, are those who cook for and clean up after and serve those who are in the business of making that money. And as the lowest paid jobs are also those traditionally (and let's face it still) mostly done by women, it doesn't take a leap of intellect to work out where our values also lie. Women have cleaned - for nothing - for centuries, so its value in economic terms is lowest on the scale.
But - as I said before - cleaners literally clean up our shit! They do the things that most people don't want to do. And if they stopped doing that, what would happen? If cleaners didn't do what they do in offices, hospitals, schools and government departments (and in the home) how long would it take before those of us who take it for granted (i.e. all of us) would begin to notice the filth and the smell (and the disease)?