Time for locals to get dirty!

It is rather astounding that Malaysians are willing to take up the 3D jobs overseas, but not in their own country

by AZALEA AZUAR/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

HERE is an interesting fact: Malaysians do not mind taking up any dirty, dangerous or demeaning (3D) job anywhere else in the world as long as not in their own country.

Each year, the number of menial workers from Malaysia, who would take the trouble to move to other countries to work in orchards, farms and construction projects, is rather astounding, yet, all similar works in the country are mainly done by foreign hands.

Is it just the pay, or mainly the social stigma? Former Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran in a recent report said many Malaysians are willing to take up these jobs overseas due to the higher wages, despite the social stigma.

Many are now taking up different jobs in Singapore and Australia while South Korea is also another preferred country.

However, things are changing. The Covid-19 pandemic could be the game-changer. Just imagine, within seven days after the government decided to implement the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, some 520,000 Malaysians lost their jobs.

At the same time, travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus has caused labour shortages at oil palm plantations which were 70% manned by foreigners from Indonesia and various South Asian countries.

Now, the plantation industry is short of some 500,000 workers. One would ideally think that the slots could now be taken over by Malaysians who have been laid off from their jobs.

According to Deputy Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Dr Edmund Santhara, 1,200 locals have applied to work at the Selayang wholesale market which was previously deemed “filthy” and mainly reserved for the willing migrants.

Efforts are now made by many innovative Malaysian entrepreneurs who plan to change the scenario and take advantage of the situation.

One example is local cleaning company Maideasy COO Meriza Mustapha (picture) who aims to change the perception of what it means to be a cleaner.

She thought instead of being called a “cleaner”, why not change the designation to “home-organiser”?

After all, they are helping people organise homes, which allow clients to enjoy quality time with the family.

Meriza said that Maideasy’s cleaners are all locals and they get paid a minimum of RM2,000.

“So, if for example, you work four days a week, two jobs a day, you can get over RM2,000,” Meriza said, adding that the company now hires about 400 to 500 gig workers a month.

“For gig workers, I realised that although there is the freedom to control their income for the day, they are still left out from the system that provides the safety net,” she said.

To ensure better security for its workers, Maideasy provides them with personal accident insurance.

Meriza said the company is also in talks with the Employment Provident Fund and the Social Security Organisation in providing a safety net for gig workers.

From Unreliable Maids to Gig Workers

Maideasy began its operation in early 2015 and it was inspired by Meriza’s personal experience.

“We had a baby and we were looking for a maid. The maids that came were unreliable. Within two weeks, I had changed three maids! It was very hard for us to have a full-time maid as well,” she said.

Meriza said the domestic helpers business is huge here as Malaysians are very dependent on maids.

“There are some 300,000 registered and unregistered domestic helpers, cleaners, maids and all that. So we thought it is a great opportunity to turn around the business disrupting the industry. We feel that it can be a good change for the industry,” she said.

Meriza said her company’s earlier challenge was mainly on logistics.

“We tinkered with a few ideas on what we wanted to do — whether we wanted to use cleaning companies, or if we wanted to use foreigners which are registered.

“But then it never worked, because when you use cleaning companies, they have different standard operating procedures (SOPs) and we cannot guarantee consistent quality for the services when you are using third parties with different ways of doing things,” she said.

To her, the most important value with customers is punctuality.

Meriza was concerned that if she would use different cleaning companies, they would be unable to get the cleaners to arrive on time.

“By letting the cleaners be a gig worker which allows them to decide on the time and place they want to work, they can come on time for the job. We have eliminated the need for logistics from the company.”

Not Just the Women, But Men Too

Those who wish to join the cleaning team would need to undergo training, which is conducted online.

Live training is done at the company’s base in Sunway Opal Damansara where the gig workers are introduced to materials and equipment used for housekeeping and cleaning.

“Since they do the whole cleaning of a house, they have to come to the real house setting. They learn how to clean the living room and they’re introduced to different materials and tools so they will know how to clean a house,” she said.

Maideasy is not just about challenging the social stigma of hiring local cleaners, but the company is challenging the male gender stereotypes as well.

“Last year, I had this cleaner who was a student who wanted to accumulate money to start his own business and get married. He runs a satay stall at night and he cleans during the day,” she said.

Joining Maideasy also provides additional income for many.

“Once you are in charge of your own time and revenue, you have the motivation to become an entrepreneur. Some of the cleaners have a goal to become entrepreneurs,” Meriza said.

She added that jobs that were traditionally held by women do not necessarily gender-specific these days.

“Nursing is one good example. As for cleaning, men have the extra skill of being physically stronger than women. So they can remove sofas and sweep under it or clean under it,” she said.

Men also do not naturally identify themselves as cleaners or neither do they often manage the home, so they are more open to learning how to clean a house.

“So when they come to the training centre, they are more open-minded. They don’t have preconceptions,” Meriza said.

Meriza said male cleaners also seem to learn the SOPs better than the female counterparts.

Adapting to the Pandemic

On May 1, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Malaysia had suffered an estimated loss of RM63 billion since the implementation of MCO.

“We are affected because for the first two months during MCO, we were not allowed to operate at all.

“The cleaners were turned away at the checkpoints and on the highways or the roads. Therefore, we were zero during the MCO. No sale, no nothing at all,” said Meriza.

On May 4, when the Conditional MCO began, Maideasy was back in operation.

Even though the company is still not operating in full capacity, it is picking up nicely.

“For sure, we have realised that cleaning is an essential service for a lot of households. Cleanliness is part of life and they want their houses clean. However, they are very concerned about the Covid-19 risk,” she said.

To protect the health and safety of both Maideasy’s cleaners and customers, the management drafted and updated its SOPs.

“If the cleaners don’t feel well or if they are having a fever or something, they are not allowed to work.

“When they go to the customer’s house, they have to wear face masks and it’s advisable to wear gloves as well. They also need to keep a distance between themselves and the customers,” Meriza said.

On the other hand, customers would also receive a pop-up on their smartphone screens stating that they are not at risk of Covid-19 when they do a booking.

Meriza said Maideasy would continue to hire only Malaysians, as they are more wary of the people’s cultural idiosyncrasies and nuances.

“Covid-19 has shown that our customers are still loyal to us. They, like us, believe in our cause. So, we will be ready for what we believe in,” she added.