DEDICATED TO JAYA DEVI STANLEY
Since the Prime Minister's National Day Rally this year, there has been a concerted effort to get people to clean up after they finish eating at our coffee-shops. This usually involves returning the used crockery and trays you use to designated areas. I am not in support of this initiative.
Returning used crockery and trays is not difficult for my generation of Singaporeans, who had to do the same when we were in school or in national service. In fact, I used to do so judiciously until some 5 years ago.
Then, I had recently returned from England to take up a job in Singapore with a cooperative of the National Trades Union Congress. A new colleague invited me out to lunch.
After lunch, I cleaned up the table and was about to return the tray I had used.
My colleague yelled, "No, don't do that!"
I asked her, "Why? What's wrong?"
She then pointed to an elderly lady who was going round the eatery clearing the tables. She suggested, "If you do this, old people like her will lose their jobs. There'll be less for them to do and therefore less incentive for owners of such eateries to keep them employed."
I questioned my colleague, "Am I not help helping her by doing this?"
She said, "If you really want to help her, clean up the table and place all the things that you need to return or throw away on the tray. But let her take the tray from the table to where it should go. She will be more grateful to you as a person for helping her to do that."
Since that incident, I have followed my colleague's advice. The smile I get from elderly cleaners when I do as advised is an experience to be cherished.
The National Environment Agency, with food court owners and cleaning agencies, has now come out to argue that returning the crockery and cutlery one uses to designated areas will not affect the jobs of such elderly, since they will have other things do do.
Like many other diners and cleaners, I do not buy the NEA's argument.
A table that has not been cleared away leaves the greatest impact on the consumer. Many owners of eateries know this. They therefore undertake great efforts to ensure tables remain clear. It is not unusual for them to employ more than the usual number of cleaners during peak periods so that more consumers will patronise their eateries.
I agree that cleaners have other things to do but these other things can be done by employing more cleaners or getting the same cleaners to do the same during non-peak periods.
It is important here to also note how The Straits Times reported NEA's position on 7 October 2008: "The NEA, foodcourt owners and cleaning agencies have come out to assure cleaners - some of whom are elderly - that they will not lose their sources of livelihoods. The NEA, for example, says hawker centres will always require cleaners, so they will be redeployed to wherever they are needed, if necessary." (emphasis added)
Firstly, I noted, in particular, the absence of any indication of NTUC involvement or support to this initiative. Secondly, the key words in the above paragraph are "if necessary". Need I say more?
If you really wish to help a cleaner, do clean up the table you use and place all the things that you need to return or throw away on a tray. Let the cleaner clear the tray. When the cleaner comes to get your tray, thank the cleaner for doing so and watch out for that appreciative smile from him or her.
By doing so, you will not only be helping eateries to remain clean but also helping cleaners to retain their jobs. This way, we build not just a gracious society but a society that looks out for its needy.
Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?