The humanity behind the grime

Rhiannon Davies, 22, demonstrates her cleaning technique.

“Invisible angels’ – that’s what Megan Wilson calls commercial cleaners.

They come in the middle of the night armed with mops and buckets, vacuums and dusters, turn dark and dirty into pristine and then disappear. Until the next night.

But people still sneer, curl the lip, look down the nose. “Cleaning is a thankless task,” admits Megan. Her entire working career has been cleaning up other people’s messes, but she can see past the disdain.

“Look, I was married at 16 and had three kids before 21. Not a lot of education and cleaning was my opportunity.” Megan was grateful for a mop and bucket and her God-given obsessive attitude to cleanliness and tidiness. It enabled her to care, feed and fend for her family.

Cleaning has been kind.

And even after surrendering her mop for an op’s manager role with cleaning giant OCS at the Mount, she will still get her hands dirty if needed.

The point being it’s Thank Your Cleaner Day on Wednesday, October 16 – a chance to show thanks for those doing the thankless task. A smile and a kind word is free. Perhaps a card left for a cleaner, a shared morning tea, a big thanks left on your digital welcoming screen or print off a downloadable thank you banner.

Doesn’t have to be much. “Just any show of appreciation would be nice,” says Megan. “Think about it.”

If there’s a budget, perhaps a movie ticket, a shopping voucher or a small gift of flowers with a thank you card. There has been some big budget appreciation of cleaners in the past – a party in an airplane hangar, breakfast with the lemurs and digital billboard space.

Need further reason to be appreciative? Talk to Rhiannon – as in the Fleetwood Mac song – Davies, just 22, who got her cleaning genes from Megan her mother. If she’s walking down the street and sees a smudge on a window, there’s an urge to wipe.

“I love cleaning, it’s in the blood, it’s something I enjoy and I am good at it.” But she also has some “shocker” work stories to tell. They involve personal habits in work bathrooms, faecal matter and toilet seats. You just don’t want to know. “Just part of the job.”

Rhiannon’s the complete antithesis of the archetypal cleaning lady – she’s young, groomed and corporate – no headscarf, smock, and fag end here.

And there’s no need for people to get all snooty. “Because every job involves a little bit of cleaning,” says Rhiannon. “Whether it be a coffee cup or clearing your desk or wiping down a bench because you have spilt something.”

Rhiannon just brushes off that superiority thing. “Although sometimes it gets to you.”

There are another 40,000 Rhiannons out there in New Zealand cleaning classrooms, airports, shopping malls and offices, and often working unsocial hours to ensure workspaces are clean and comfortable.

Cleaners mostly work on the minimum wage of $17.70. “It would be nice of our clients looked at the living wage of $21.15,” says Megan. “It isn’t an attractive role and not a lot of thanks, so it would certainly assist with staff retention.

Rhiannon Davies takes her work home - she’s fastidious about tidiness and cleanliness there too.

“Just about drives my partner nuts,” says Rhiannon. “Clean my bedroom every day, make sure the beds made and no dust or dirt on the windowsills. And every day I am dusting, vacuuming or mopping or doing dishes.”

Cleanliness is next to Godliness they say.


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