This person cleans up your mess for $8.50

This person cleans up your mess for $8.50

Lately I have been at home during the day more than I used to when I was running a global business. So I had the good fortune to actually meet the woman who cleans our house once a week. Prior to this, I had a vague understanding that we ‘had a cleaner’, but I took that service for granted, and certainly gave the person who cleaned up our mess little thought.

Well, I had a great long chat with ‘Rosie’ (lets call her that for now) and of course she is a recent migrant, from Asia, but she is fluent in English, very bright, cheerful, and an engaging person, with a willing smile and a lovely sense of humour.

I asked her about her original home and how she found living in Australia. We inevitably got to talking about her work history, because I was truly interested in her, but also because I am a classified, fully paid-up recruiting-tragic, and I can’t help myself.

Rosie does not only clean houses of well-heeled North Shore professionals. No, to make a living for herself, her husband and her impoverished family back home, she works in a Sydney hotel, near Darling Harbour, where she cleans the rooms, six days a week.

Now, I have always considered Australia a highly evolved industrial democracy, with many laws protecting people from exploitation, but as I dug deeper, the more shocked I became. Or maybe in my smug, comfortable world, I am just ignorant of the realities of working life for many in this country. And a working life it is.

Rosie’s working status at the hotel is a ‘permanent casual‘, as she described it to me. I think that means ‘not temp’, but without the security or regular hours of a permanent job. On a typical day she cleans 15 or 16 rooms. However, she gets no notice of how long each shift might be, and there are no guarantees of how much work she will get. She only finds out what’s in store when she arrives – it depends on the occupancy. There is no compensation if she only has three hours work on a particular day.

Incredibly, she is not paid a set wage, or by the hour. She is paid by the ‘rooms serviced’. So if a pedantic, obsessively neat accountant from Hobart has just vacated, she might knock the room over in 25 minutes. But if Johnny Rotten, the surviving Sex Pistols, and a gaggle of groupies, have just rolled out, it might take an hour or 90 minutes.

And some of what she cleans up does not bare thinking about.

But, be it 25 minutes or 90, Rosie gets paid per room.

And that pay?

$8.50 per room cleaned.

So Rosie thinks nothing of leaving her far-western Sydney home at 5 am, to get to Darling Harbour to clean how many rooms she does not know, for $8.50 a room, and then to catch a bus, mid-afternoon, to northern Sydney, where she cleans up after the Savage family, the father of which she only met the first time in 2 years, last week.

And so it was I found myself snapping at my son recently, when he accepted his meal from a waitress without thanking or acknowledging her, and how it was he got a severe dressing down on manners and respect for anyone who does anything for him.

And it’s a lesson for me too, and maybe for you as well, as you close the door on a wrecked hotel room that cost $400 a night, that someone will clean up our mess, for about the cost of a cup of coffee, or two.

I read this week that Margaret Thatcher had a vicious turn of phrase for her senior ministers, and could be brutal with top people who underperformed, but was increasingly kind to people, the more junior their position. I respect her for that at least.

Work is honorable. Any work. Any job. Every person must be respected for what they do, regardless how menial it may be. No matter what the pay, just the same, they make a contribution to the greater good.

Society needs every one of its workers to function, and those of us protected from the harsh realities of the lower rungs of the employment ecosystem need to respect every worker, and all work, as much as we do those ‘rock stars’ in business and elsewhere, who we idolise for earning millions of dollars a year.

It’s not political. It’s human.

Have your say on this. Please leave a comment.

About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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44 Responses to This person cleans up your mess for $8.50

  1. Grant May 28, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    Excellent article, thanks Greg. So true, it’s easy to take those in the background for granted when in fact they are making an important contribution. “Rosie” should be visiting our schools to teach kids about work-ethic!

    Like you, I also try to install those same values of gratitude and kindness in my kids, to help them appreciate just how fortunate they are.

  2. Yasmin May 28, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Wow, I’m so impressed with Rosie’s work ethic, yet so disappointed that she has to work day-in day-out without any prior knowledge of her earnings or hours. I can’t imagine many of us enjoying an existence like that.

    Prior to reading this I’ve always been the type of person that leaves a hotel room tidy, however now I’m going to ensure that I make it even easier for the staff that come in afterwards to efficiently tidy up what I leave behind so it takes them less than 30 mins. Even then $8.50 for 30mins just doesn’t seem like enough!!

  3. Art@ Altitude May 28, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    When overseas recently in one of the most perfect places on Earth, I would sneak the cleaner into my room for a break, she was 16 years old, had to work the hours demanded of her, for $5 per room, I made my entire party – a large wedding group – start giving small cash tips for good service to all the amazing underpaid staff who served us like we were royal blood, it starts with awareness xx thank you for sharing xx

  4. Sephora May 28, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Really good article, Greg. I often have to listen to people complaining about how hard life is earning $1200 per day. That’s just over 141 hotel rooms for Rosie. Maybe these people should put themselves in her shoes for a day and get some perspective.

  5. Tim McNamara May 28, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Great article Greg. Whatever our jobs may be, we’re all ultimately working for the same thing – to provide a life for ourselves and our families, and to be happy.

  6. Rachael May 28, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Nothing like an article that brings awareness of an often unwritten subject to make my day. Thanks Greg for writing about a topic that I hope will make people stop and think about how their own actions affect others.

  7. Kevin Chappell May 28, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks Greg, great article and one which brings you down to earth with a thud! Oh how we complain about our lot in life…. Funny how it’s mostly the immigrants who do these jobs because they want to give back to their families and make sure their kids get the best opportunity. And it’s even funnier (as in a peculiar way..) that the taxes that are exhorted from these people go to supporting our own whinging bludgers (in both our countries…) who see these menial tasks beneath them! I have great admiration and respect for these people who do whatever work they need to do, and at the same time create the rounding that makes a
    “wholesome” society.

  8. Navid May 28, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Great post Greg and I have always had respect for people in the service industry, including the gentleman that cleans my office daily.

    What you have mentioned is terrible, especially under a labor government which boasts about abolishing work choices legislation (which by the way could have helped create more jobs) and yet still allows employers to make good money off people with little to no negotiating power

  9. Aaron Dodd May 28, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    How much do you pay Rosie to clean your house Greg?

    • Greg Savage May 28, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      ah, I LOVE the smell of cynicism in the morning Aaron. I think its about $8.51 a room actually….

  10. Julie May 28, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    There’s a man who stands on the corner of Queen and Collins St in Melbourne on most days selling the Big Issue. He only receives $3 per copy that is purchased from him, yet he talks almost constantly to wish people a good day. He doesn’t have an agenda, he is just a friendly man trying to put good energy into the world. He could choose to survive just on benefits, but he stands in the street no matter what the weather not grumping or remaining silent, but saying kind things to strangers.

    The “suits” largely don’t see this man and sadly most people ignore him. He has a tough story and yet he still remains positive and upbeat trying to give to others while surviving for a month on the equivalent of what I spend on lunch in a week.

    I was priviledged to acknowledge him with a thank you and received a look of pure joy that was unfiltered and which made my day. He gave me so much more than I could ever give him, yet I would appear to be the one who is better off.

  11. Brian Cooper May 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Thanks Greg, a great post. It reminds me of how we often take things for granted.
    In recruitment, while slightly different, we should never forget what it is like to be an applicant, treat them as we would want to be treated, with respect and dignity. Today’s candidate often turns out to be tomorrow’s client!

  12. Carolyn Hyams May 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Makes me feel quite ashamed that we (I’ll say I too) take these hardworking people for granted. Let’s face it, it’s a shit job, but to them it’s their most important job and their livelihood. Many people come to Australia for a brighter future, highly qualified and with plenty of work experience behind them, but end up having to clean for a ridiculous wage because Australians can’t see beyond their immigration laws. To add insult, they’re then mistreated, and not given the respect they deserve.

  13. Pauline Peters May 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Great comments. The old saying of “do unto others as you would wish done unto yourself” is so true but how many of us out there remember this in all instances. The reply by Julie gave me warm fuzzies and brought to mind that saying thank you for the smallest gesture can make someones day that much better. So, thank you Greg for reminding us.

  14. brooke May 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    As always Greg, I find your articles insightful, honest and thoroughly entertaining. Thank you for sharing and shedding light on an area that is often overlooked.

  15. Balasubramaniam May 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    Everyone should be respected for whatever they do. Nothing to be taken for granted. These values need to be cultivated. Great article Greg.

  16. Luke May 28, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Great article Greg. I too have a cleaner that visits once a fortnight and ironically, I find myself cleaning up in preparation for the cleaner. Seriously, although my “Rosie” is an Australian lady in her early 50’s, has been married for 30 years, has 3 adult boys and is prepared to do the work I claim takes up too much of my spare time, she happily completes the tasks without hint of negative comment. What she did once say to me was that when a new client talked down to her and treated her like a common cleaner, she was quick to pass up any future work with them. I think that this says it all, no matter what the job is we do in life, treat people as you would like to be treated…. As my Mum taught me:)

  17. Joy May 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    Greg, Thank you for reminding us that its important to treat and respect everyone in the same way. There are very many Rosie’s around us, we just don’t often think about or see. The office messenger, the driver, the nanny / domestic worker etc. The world would actually be a better place if we all just respected each other and treated each other better. The fact that one has a job that’s perceived to be “lower” than another, does not mean that they are “lower” humans.

    I am always in my daughter’s face, reminding her to say thank you for the care she gets from her nanny, and her nanny in return loves her to bits. you get back what you give.

  18. Bronwyn May 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Recruitment is the “coal face” of the employment industry and so it is very disappointing to read that so many recruitment professionals are surprised that such practices exist. Surly it is our business to know what goes on? Australia has a growing population of working poor. Talk to candidates who are employed on casual basis via recruitment companies, these candidates have no control over how many hours they work or how many days. It is difficult to find childcare as it has to be paid for whether used or not making it expensive or just inaccessible. Then the recruiter stops using the candidate because they are not available at short notice – just one example of how many people live day to day. Others are paid by how many boxes they pack which is influenced by the products arriving from another factory on time so an eight hour day worked has no consistent pay rate. Good luck renting a house with those employment conditions. Get real people and know what is going on around you and not just in your industry specific clique. It will make you a better recruiter and person.

  19. Jason May 28, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Great post Greg. I’d love to hear what some of the claimants of unemployment benefits I know have to say about Rosie’s work ethic…

  20. Rosanna May 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Thanks Greg for this. I would be looking forward for more articles such as this. As a recruiter myself, my outlook have changed a lot as i meet this kind of wonderful hearted people. How can we help in a long term , people like Rosie? Id be happy to chat 🙂

    • Jane MacArthur June 2, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Oh dear maybe the main point has been missed, not about romanticising oppression surely?

  21. Leigh May 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Greg. You are fortunate to have had this learning experience. Thanks for sharing it. As someone who made their living from cleaning other people’s home during 3 years at university in the 90s, I can assure you cleaning up after others certainly makes me grateful for where I am now.

    Other thoughts:
    I am amazed that employment legislation in the ‘lucky country’ allows this to happen.

    Patronising or what? e.g. “All work is important”. “We are all trying to do the same thing – support our families” (on $8.50 a room, yeah right!) and isn’t it great that these people are so cheerful.

    Bronwyn. Thanks for reminding us that our industry is contributing to the casualisation of the labour market.

    And Jason, if you ever happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a benefit – as a result of events beyond your control, you may think differently.

    • Jason May 30, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Leigh, that was not a shot at people on benefits – I was referring to people I know who are completely capable of working but choose not to in favour of going on the dole. I feel they could definitely learn something from Rosie’s work ethic =)

      • Brad June 1, 2013 at 6:29 am #

        Regarding the article, I think it is important to say hi to the office cleaner, i am amazed at the number of people that never acknowledge them.


        When you are job seeking many recruiters and i am interesting in Greg & other recruiters view but the standard response is you can only apply for positions that you have previously held.

        Recently a senior manager at one of this countries largest recruitment agency wrote on their company website that advertised job ads are not the place to seek a career change.

  22. Sunny May 28, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful article. I am sure this is one example of many that exist in this country and around the world. Many who are privileged do not appreciate what others have to endure to bring food on to the table. I have encountered similar “Rosie’s” in my travels and I really feel for them as I know they are treated lowly in society or workplace. Your article reminds me of the famous quote “I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet”.

  23. erin May 28, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Thanks for the great post Greg! It’s a good reminder to us all about the stark realities of life, and also never to take each other for granted. It’s important to inculcate such good values to the younger generation too!!!

  24. Susan May 29, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    When I was a student I worked several low paid part time jobs, I even managed to juggle a few at the same time. This included cleaning student apartments at the end of the year (shocking what supposedly “intelligent” people leave for others to clear up).
    These experiences have stayed with me, and have proved very valuable in my career. Now I am in an executive position I notice behaviour towards staff and I challenge it. I also make it a point when selecting candidates to look for similar work experience on CVs and ask about it at interviews, especially in graduates/management grades. I prefer candidates who have shown they have been equally prepared to roll their sleeves up and do the hard unglamorous work.

  25. Alan Allebone May 29, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    A touching story tinged with sadness!

    if only some of the top CEO’s would acknowledge that the Company’s janitor is equal to them the better.

    Why do I say this?

    Because we are all HUMANS!

    I personally believe that if we treat each other with respect it would be a better world.

    Instead iof looking down on someone, look them straight in the eye!

    Yes we all have duties and responsibilities but at the end of the day we are all working together.

    Thank you Greg.

    Kind regards


  26. Goddessoflubbock May 29, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    If only things were so good here in the states. My husband is blue collar, and some 20 years ago his pay as a union janitor far exceeded mine as a paralegal.

    Things have changed. He now cleans a supermarkets floors, sweep, scrub and buffs the whole store, by himself, for $45 per night. He gets no benefits, no time off, if a machine breaks he’s expected to fix it – even if it adds an hour to his night.

    Our minimum wage is $7.25/hr and is often the pay.

    I try to not leave a cleanup job in my wake bc I know the toll it takes.

  27. Rachael June 1, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    Good post, Greg – and v honest in your admitting that “I took that service for granted, and certainly gave the person who cleaned up our mess little thought”. TBH I found that admission surprising,,, is this a male/female difference?

  28. Kate Southam June 2, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    Enjoyed your piece Greg. While I admire Rosie’s work ethic I am dismayed she has to earn a living working this way – hotels and homes so far from where she lives and for such little money. No wonder we have seen so much campaigning in the lower wage area.

    When I worked at News Ltd, I always paused to smile and say ‘hello’ to the woman who cleaned the loos when we crossed paths. We had both been there for many years. She was also a migrant but what fascinated me was how she appeared invisible as she went about her work, quietly and diligently. I worry that these people become sort of non-people – with no power over their working conditions. The story @Goddessoflubbock tells bares that. Best wishes to you and your husband @Goddessoflubbock.

  29. Toma June 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    People like her need only try living in Italy where they can’t find work, period! Not only can they not find work, but the govt offers no support whatsoever. None. Nada. Zip. Starve.

    I’m sure she is happy just to have opportunity, which is after all the greatest thing about developed nations.

  30. David SYDNEY June 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    If Rosie’s story surprises you, you should be ashamed. This is the reality of many people in what is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And yes, many business owners think they are hard done by and want more flexible working arrangements to essentially make more money. Rosie won’t be seeing parental leave any time soon, will she?

    • Karen July 9, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Can be stop bashing businesses?

      They have their own challenges – especially small business owners who these days have joined the ‘working poor’ category. They are also ‘the invisible’ in society these days.

      They go into business to offer a skill or service and try to make a living and when the money dries up, the staff and bills are paid first and foremost and the small/micro business owner gets little or nothing out of it.

      Not all business owners are greedy bastards ripping off everyone left, right and center. Many people try going into business, can’t make it so go and get a job (which leaves us with how many people building enterprises to employ others and provide the ‘jobs’ that everyone wants?)

      This sector employs around 80% of people and is shrinking. Sometimes the small business owner gets no income – yet you can’t just toss a business in when you feel like it. You are either ‘shut’ or ‘open’. You can’t turn it off and on like a tap. Once it’s closed it usually stays closed. Employment opportunities have then just been eliminated.

      Yes, you get the upside (when things go well) but that is also when you get labelled a greedy bastard as you try to recoup income that you didn’t have – sometimes for years -that you now need to pay beck/off the credit cards, mortgage (if you still have one), pay off overdue bills etc and try to get back to a position you were in before the downturn, let alone try and get ahead and feel like there is some ‘reward’ for all the years of work and risk you’ve taken on board.

      Just a thought from the other side – especially for those who have never been in small business and think we just sit here raking in the cash each day with our feet up on the desk, cracking the whip on those employees (who are more than likely treated like family and on a better financial wicket than the SME owner).

      There is good and bad practice on both the employer and employee side of the fence. Both can be angels or bastards to others regardless of employment or any other status.

      End of rant.

  31. Gerry Crispin June 6, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    The abuse of workers in nearly every society gave rise in some to unions which unfortunately took advantage as well. Absent a resurgence of union movements, more and more evidence suggests that our so called developed societies offering workers incredible benefits need many ‘exceptions’ to pull it off.

  32. Heather Travis June 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    An excellent read and something I am passionate about – when I first set up the business 20 + years ago I also was a waitress, bar maid & dog walker in the evenings and at weekends – I will never forget how much better I felt when someone spoke to me as a real person and gave me encouragement to follow my ambitions. Everyone makes the world a better place whatever their roles but certainly the lower paid people are some of the hardest workers for which I have the upmost respect and admiration.

  33. Mark June 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    A mate of mine tipped a cleaner in a hotel in cuba once, he gave her $10 US. She came back the next day with her husband who thanked him – and offered to drive them around all day. He took them up on the offer and tipped them again another $10. They invited him to there house (he didn’t go in the end). He later discovered that $10 to this family was pretty much the same as us getting 2 month wages in one hit.

  34. Steve July 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    “Whatever is done properly, no matter how humble, is noble”…
    Much as I’d like to claim that as my own, it was in fact the motto of one Henry Royce, mechanic.
    You’d know him better as Sir Henry, the Royce in Rolls-Royce.
    He only ever called himself a mechanic- and he knew the first and last names of every single person who worked for him.

  35. Debbie September 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    I once worked in the Hospitality industry. One cafe I worked in employed many wait staff on a ‘casual permanent’ basis.In the hours between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner the wait staff were instructed to take a break, in other words you will not be paid for the next hour or so. They couldn’t leave, they had to sit until the next service when they would begin earning money again. Essentially these staff were only paid for the time that they were ‘on their feet’. This is over 20 years ago, I have never forgotten it, and it was the one key reason I left this cafe after many discussions with the owner. It is a shame to see that the industry, or in any case, Rosie’s environment hasn’t improved after all these years.

    I agree that everybody who works should be treated with respect, some do it tough, like Rosie, others have it easier. If you get out of bed everyday with ambition to accomplish something, anything, then you deserved to be acknowledged and thanked, whether it is with a smile, a word or a pat on the back.

  36. Shauna-Marie Wilson December 17, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    I welcome this insight, Greg. I’m honestly surprised by it, perhaps only because we’ve not yet met in person, but lots of things happen in notional modern industrial democracies. The fair go here is largely a myth.

    • Greg Savage December 17, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      What are you surprised by Shauna?

      • Shauna-Marie Wilson March 10, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

        Greg only surprised because my own experiences of workplace, perhaps I was too fast to judge, after all I concede this happens to any of us sometimes. I became accustomed early to being defined by what I am (Personally) rather than talent, attitude and ability. I guess after that I found patterns in my workplace experiences and saw the bigger picture through those. I was frustrated that in what I’d have thought was an evolved nation, I could be held back in the career space by things personal to me that aren’t relevant to abilities. So take it easy, and enjoy your speaking tour.

  37. james chessum December 27, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    Great piece, and made me think of our cleaner. An immigrant to the country of 5 years so learnt the language from scratch, works 14 hour days cleaning people’s flats, often the tenants are renting themselves. Now get this. . She now has enough for a deposit and mortgage for her own flat in London. 5 years graft and saving. And she will be cleaning people’s flats who are renting, and out of all her clients will be the only one who owns her own London pad! Menial? No way!

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