There is a high level of uncertainty and concern in the minds of the ground-level/task-level cleaners about their income and their future. So far, the government has done very little in terms of providing relief for this group. Other countries like the UK have provided government furlough covering 80% of the salary of the minimum wage earner, and Singapore has provided SGD 100 per person per day for food, stay and other amenities. The Indian government needs to come up with and execute a comparable plan to support the families of the millions employed in the FM sector.
Rajain hopes that the cleaning industry will demand more skilled manpower and technological advancements to manage the supply-demand disruptions. Presently, Tenon FM is bucking the trend by hiring professional and well-skilled cleaning specialists as demands continue to grow during the lockdown. Embassy Services is adhering to timely payments for every staff member, apart from additional payments for those working on the ground, over and above their salaries.
Freeman made a very crucial point: “In addition to the FM industry receiving a greater profile, one outcome I hope will be realised is a greater value being placed on those in the cleaning profession; janitors, supervisors and the like. If this happens, we will be able to recognise their hard work with improved salaries and working conditions. A few weeks ago, people believed that those working in supermarkets, and cleaners were ‘low-skilled’; now, these are the people critical to managing the Covid-19 outbreak”.
Expected government support
Unfortunately, most authorities at every level have failed to identify professional cleaning as an essential service. This prohibits the free movement of workers in manufacturing facilities between home and equipment manufacturing facilities, as well as that of FM personnel between their residences and the facility itself. This is slowly changing, but needs to change more rapidly.
A majority of India’s cleaning equipment and chemicals are imported. Importers have already paid customs duties and GST for these products, which are now lying unused in warehouses because of the suspension of transport. For these businesses to not just survive but also continue to function during this critical time, the government needs to give them leeway in tax payments, and allot a portion of the soon-to-be-restarted rail goods transport to them, to move critical cleaning supplies to where they are needed.
While much of the government’s resources will be understandably devoted towards healthcare, the time is also ripe for the government to invest in mechanisation for cleaning for the purpose of public health.
to be continued