At Sabak Bernam schools, cleaners slog without pay for 4 months

Even before the first school bell rings in the morning, cleaner Kak Zahirah (not her real name) is hard at work at a primary school in Sekinchan.

Work continues all day, and it is usually late in the evening when she finally goes home.

Zahirah is the sole breadwinner for her family which includes four young children. For the past four months, though, she has received zero pay for her work.

The problem is rooted in the complexity of the contract system which allows leeway for unscrupulous private contractors to exploit cleaners like Zahirah, if they so choose.

With no money coming in, Zahirah is at a loss for what to do.

“I used all of my money for the house, the car, and my children’s welfare,” she said in an interview with MalaysiaNow.

“I have had to borrow money from my friends, from my mother. But what can I do? I’m in a desperate state right now.”

Zahirah is one of some 50 cleaners from primary and secondary schools in Sabak Bernam who recently held a peaceful protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya.

Organised by NGO Jaringan Pekerja Kontrak Kerajaan (JPKK), a body which champions workers’ rights and is working to abolish the contract system, the gathering aimed to acquire compensation for the cleaners who had not been paid since November.

It also called for their contractors to be terminated and blacklisted from hiring new cleaners in the future.

Protesting was far from their first option. For months, they had lodged complaints with the district education office in Sabak Bernam.

In February, they filed a complaint with the labour department, naming three private contractors.

However, they received no updates about the situation after that and were only told to be patient. “You will be compensated soon,” they were assured.

But after months of waiting with nothing to show for it, Zahirah’s patience is wearing thin.

Contract cleaners hold up signs and placards demanding their rightful wages at a peaceful protest in Putrajaya.

“I have been working under this contractor for three years and I have never been in this situation where I am not paid for four months,” she said.

“I am fortunate that some teachers at my school gave us donations, and some NGOs helped us as well. But we cannot rely on them all the time.”

Kak Yati and Kak Mas (not their real names), two other cleaners at a secondary school in Simpang Lima, said they only met their employer once, when signing their contracts.

“We have been working with JPKK since early January,” Yati said. “We just want our salaries because it is our right as cleaners.”

Yati, Mas and others like them say that the contract system carries zero benefit for cleaners. They are not given annual leave, they cannot apply for medical leave, and they need to replace their working hours if they take emergency leave.

“Last year, one of our friends had an accident and fractured her knee bone,” Mas said.

“She had to be hospitalised. She filled out all of the forms to apply for medical leave but she received no response from our employer. In the end, she had to use her own money to pay for her hospital bills.”

Taking a day off from work to protest in Putrajaya was not easy for these women, but in the end, their efforts paid off. Later that afternoon, officials from the education ministry said that they would be compensated by April 1.

However, the cleaners were advised to file a complaint with regards to blacklisting the companies in question.

“The authorities said that investigations would be held within two weeks, and that if the workers’ complaints were true, they would terminate the contractors’ contracts,” cleaner Norma Abu Hassan said.

But even without a salary coming in, the workers have continued to do their jobs.

“I have been working as a cleaner for 15 years because I want a monthly income of RM970 to help my family,” Yati said.

“My husband is a farmer and I have five children to take care of.”

MalaysiaNow has contacted the companies for a response.

Source: MalaysiaNow

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