Text and Images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
The news about Sakae Sushi offering to pay their dishwashers $3000 a month was the talk of the town last month. To many, these are figures echoed in executive’s salary-talk conversations, not what you normally offer to a dish washer in Singapore. But for those in the industry, those who have toiled as dishwasher, this information and offer, is not all wine and roses. It is a tough job, they reasoned and it may not even be a sufficient compensation.
“Singaporeans want a five-day week, high salary, air-con, this job is too exhausting for most of them, even if you were to offer $3000,” says Ms Catherine Ang, 51, who has been at this job for more than 10 years and was a supervisor of the cleaning team at a food court in CBD.
She shares with us the trails and tribulation, scope and scars of the job so we have a better understanding of the needs and expectations of these cleaning professionals.
Catherine may be a supervisor but she has to get her hands dirty when they are shorthanded, which is often the …
M: What’s tough about this job?
C: We have to stand all day, except for that few minutes when we have our meals. When the lunch and dinner crowd comes, we don’t even have time to go to the toilet. It is really unbearable, painful. At the end of the day, we have to apply medicated oil all over our legs.
M: What is the washing process like?
C: We soak the dishes in a tub of tap water to remove the remnant bits of food. We then transfer them to a tub of soap water and scrub them with a sponge. After that we rinse them with water before sending them into the dryer.
M: How many dishes do you wash in one afternoon?
C: We are talking about thousands, divided amongst 10 people.
M: What is most difficult to clean?
C: Claypots. We can’t soak it when it’s still hot because the pot will crack. So we would wash the other dishes first, and then come back to it. Everyone would have to help scrub the hardened rice off the pot. Many times we couldn’t get it out in time even though we were already working the fastest we could.
M: How do you know that a dish is clean?
C: I use my hand to check if it’s still oily. This is why I prefer not to wear gloves.
M: But gloves will protect your hands from chemical irritation.
C: Not necessarily. Water will still enter from the opening.
M: So what happens to your hands?
C: They’ll turn red, start to peel and itch. When we wash the cloths with bleach, it will bite our skin.
M: What sight disgusts you the most?
C: I hate it when they throw tissue paper into the dish when they are done with their meals, especially when there’s gravy in there. Very disgusting. Last time when I used to work at hawker centre, where people can smoke, they also like to dump their cigarette butt in. Very unhygienic.
M: Have you read the news about Sakae Sushi offering to pay their dishwashers $3000 per month?
C: Yes I have. It’s sounds like a lot but I can assure you that even if they were to offer $4000, nobody will do it, or they will not stay long in the job. Japanese restaurants have A LOT of plate. These days you can’t even find someone to do washing for just one hawker stall!
M: Why are you still at this job then?
I’m used to it. I raised my three daughters, now all in their twenties, with this and two other jobs. I would rather slog it out than to stare at the four walls at home. But may be washing is not for long.