Singapore

Young Singaporeans take up cleaning jobs

It's hardly a dream job, but these two young S'poreans tell CHAI HUNG YIN (chaihyn@sph.com.sg) why they have become part-time cleaners

He is only 23, but this young man will do anything to support his family.

Mr Lu Zhi Quan cleans people's homes - sweeping and mopping the floors, even scrubbing toilets.

That means there are no movies or clubbing in his free time.

But Mr Lu, a part-time Institute of Education student, does not mind.

He is more focused on his role as the sole breadwinner.

His mother is a stroke patient and his sister suffers from schizophrenia. His father died of cancer in September last year.

Mr Lu also has to work hard to put himself through school. He says: "I want to further my studies - diploma, degree and maybe even a master's."

He hopes to be a social worker one day and for this, he needs higher qualifications, says the mechanical engineering student.

Due to issues at home, his parents sold the family flat after they separated. Mr Lu, his mother and his sister went to live with his maternal grandmother.

His estranged father was later diagnosed with end-stage cancer, while his mum suffered a minor stroke.

After his father's death, Mr Lu became the caregiver to his mum, 60, and his sister, 31, who has been schizophrenic for more than 10 years.

Mr Lu is the youngest of four children. His other two elder siblings - a brother and a sister - are married and live with their families.

He worked as a waiter and later as a technician, while studying part-time, to support this family.

But that left him with no time to spend with his sister.

He says: "She doesn't dare to go out on her own and she stays cooped up at home. She tires easily as she has been staying at home for far too long.

"I want her to get her life back."

So he quit his better-paying job as a technician to become a freelance cleaner with Fuss.sg, a booking platform for home cleaning services in Singapore.

As a technician, he worked on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, bringing in $2,000 monthly. As a cleaner, he earns $15 an hour and on average, he makes $700 to $800 a month.

Mr Lu says: "(But) the timing is more flexible. I can take my sister to see the doctor and also, (help her) build up her stamina. I hope she can at least learn to be independent and live the life she wants."

Thrice a week, he takes his sister out for walks and jogs. He also teaches her to type on the keyboard.

"When her physical tolerance is better, I plan to bring her in as a freelance cleaner. Her typing skills will come in useful if she wants to take up administrative jobs."

Mr Lu does about 12 cleaning jobs a week. On some school days, he does two to three cleaning jobs in the day before rushing offfor his evening classes, often still sweaty from his work.

Each job takes an average of two to three hours.

"Sometimes, I don't even have time to eat. I'll eat on the way to the next job.

"I often have to turn down my friends when they ask me to go drinking. I can't afford it."

To save money, he cooks his meals or packs economy rice from the hawker centre.

Mr Lu, who lives in a one-room rental flat in Sengkang, depends on GST vouchers. The scheme helps lower- and middle-income households with living expenses. He is in the process of applying for financial assistance.

His mother, who used to work as a dishwasher, says she does not object to her son taking up cleaning jobs as "he wants to help his sister".

But his sister reveals that their mother "feels heartache" that he has to bear the burden of looking after the family.

She says: "I'm happy that he's helping me to get back on my feet again."

But Mr Lu remains cheerful.

He says: "At least, cleaning is a job and it pays better than being a waiter.

"In the army, we had to do everything, too."

"The timing is more flexible, I can take my sister to see the doctor and (help her) build up her stamina. I hope she can at least learn to be independent and live the life she wants."

- Mr Lu Zhi Quan

Extra cash for baby and me

WORKING MUM: Madam Karen Ong Yan Kee, with her daughter Shaelyn, says she can earn $16 an hour as a parttime cleaner. TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Madam Karen Ong Yan Kee says that what she earns in an hour as a cleaner - $16an hour - can be twice what she could earn as a retail assistant in a mall.

Even if that means spending 14 hoursevery month sweeping, mopping, wiping, clearing rubbish and washing the toilet in other people's homes.

The 21-year-old full-time student is doing it to supplement her husband's income. They have a 15-month-old daughter, Shaelyn.

Madam Ong says: "(The job) is flexible. I can choose whether to accept or reject a job according to my schedule.

"I'm in charge of my own schedule, so I can manage my time better."

She admits she had reservations about working as a cleaner.

"Then I thought, this is not something illegal. I can clean my own home, why not clean other people's homes?"

She adds, with a laugh: "I tell myself to look on the bright side - this can help me burn (some) extra calories."

But she's well aware that not many would want to do this job. She tried to get her peers on board, but without success.

She says: "They rejected me straightaway. They (would rather) do office jobs."

Madam Ong's mother, Madam Lek Lay Lan, 48, is a cleaner at a tuition centre and Madam Ong has been helping her mother since she was nine, first with household chores and then at her mum's work.

Her 52-year-old father is a forklift driver.

She adds with a chuckle: "So I have a lot of experience. My mum wanted me to learn how hard earning money is."

Madam Ong has been a part-time cleaner for about six months. Since April, she has cut back on her cleaning jobs because she is also doing an internship as a system analyst for her business application course at Republic Polytechnic.

She met her husband on Friendster when she was 14 years old and when they first met in person, it was love at first sight. They married in 2013.

She says: "People do judge me. They think having a child so early is not good. We have planned for marriage for some time and the baby came along, so we just fast-forwarded our plans."

Her police officer husband, Mr Aran Yeo Chin Chong, 23, initially minded her taking up cleaning jobs.

Madam Ong says: "Even though we have some savings for the baby, it will be used up. He still has to give money to his parents. I feel that it is not enough.

"With the extra money, we can buy baby stuff like diapers and I have some pocket money. I don't take money from him, so he has more for himself. I try to pay some bills, too."

Booking platforms for cleaning services rising in popularity

Many booking platforms for cleaning services have sprouted up in Singapore and since their launch, there has been an increase in demand from both customers and cleaners.

Homegrown company Fuss.sg has seen a 50 per cent month-on-month increase since it started looking for cleaners in January.

Its business development manager, Mr Nathaniel Tan, says: "We are getting busier with our work and social life and it is getting too demanding to upkeep the cleanliness of our homes.

"The younger generation is also getting more uncomfortable having a foreigner live in their midst, so they look for affordable cleaning services to alleviate their burden."

Mr Tan says the platform helps to create employment, too.

Another cleaning company, German-based Helpling, which acquired local cleaning start-up Spickify in February, sees customer demand grow 30 per cent every month.

Helpling Singapore co-founder, Mr Hoe Yeen Teck, says: "There has been quite a bit of demand now because Singaporeans are getting more affluent and our living habits are changing - smaller homes and fewer multi-generation households."

In April, home-grown start-up Sendhelper launched a scheduling app for Android and iPhone users. With it, clients can book part-time cleaning services on the go.

Its business development associate, Mr Dheepu Joboy George, says the bookings can be fulfilled almost instantly.

He adds: "We are inspired by taxi apps. We have seen how technology has made life easier and we adapt it for cleaning services."

The app has seen more than 1,200 downloads in 1½ months and 350 hours of cleaning have been fulfilled so far, he says.

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