They clear your rubbish. They sweep your common areas. They are employed to do what most, if not all, Singaporeans would shun. Sometimes we will call them "dirty." Sometimes we tend to ridicule them. Sometimes we shout at them. They have lived with us for decades and contributed immensely to the cleanliness in many Queenstown. Yet many of us have taken them for granted. They are your "Banglas"-Bangladeshi workers.
Rahaman (right) and his fellow Bangladeshi foreman Rashid (left)
Mr Rahaman, 29, is a Bangladeshi worker employed by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council. Rahaman has been working in Singapore for 5 months, specialising as a rubbish management personnel. He works from 6.30am to about 5.30pm on weekdays and from 6.30am to about 3pm on weekends, depending on the speed that they are able to finish their day’s work. He has a Sunday off every fortnight. He earns about $650 per month.
Rahaman’s work starts early in the day where he sweeps each level of 2 blocks of flats in Commonwealth drive. He works fast, clearing the dust and rubbish accumulated on the corridors the day before. Sometimes, Rahaman will receive a call from his foreman Rashid, to remove bulky items such as furniture from a resident's apartment.
An Empty but "Smelly" Bin
Drenched in sweat from the day’s work, Rahaman and Rashid head back to the bin center to empty the rubbish in their green movable bin. They finally had a break for lunch at about 11.30am. They would normally buy their lunch from the nearby Tanglin Halt market.
Moving the Bin into the Bin Centre
Rubbish Bin Collection Centre
Rahaman came to Singapore in search of a better paid job. Jobs were scarce in Bangladesh and even if there were, they were low-paying ones. He once worked in a factory back in Bangladesh for 8 years but the pay was mediocre and insufficient to support his family. He wanted to build a safe and secured home for his family (Bangladesh is prone to natural disasters such as cyclones and floods). He travelled to Sngapore when the opportunity came.
In order to provide basic food and shelter for his family, he had to make various sacrifices. Rahaman left his elderly parents and 4 year old son in his wife's care. He felt miserable when he first came to Singapore, but he is grateful to his employers and fellow countrymen such as Rashid (who arrived in Singapore much earlier) who assisted him in adapting to his new environment. Rahaman expressed sadness as he had been away from his kin for 5 months, especially so as he is unable to participate in his son's growing years. He calls home every 2 to 3 days, mainly to inquire about their well-being and also to talk to his son. 'Miss family but also cannot do anything,” exclaimed by both Rahaman and Rashid.
Rahaman and his partner Lablu
After lunch, Rahamad linked up with Lablu, who is another rubbish management personnel. They pushed the movable bin and started clearing the rubbish bins under the chutes at block 62. It is understandable why most Singaporeans shun this job which is smelly, tiring and repetitive.
We watched in admiration as Rahaman is able to withstand the overpowering stench emitted by the rotten garbage and worked efficiently. They first open the door to the chute, then Rahaman pulls the bin out while Lablu shovels the rubbish which fell outside the bin. Rahaman uses his hand to pick up rubbish which had dropped into the rain gutter in front of the chute.
Lablu Bends to Clear the Dirty Bin from the Rubbish Chute-Again
Next, both of them emptied the bin together and closed the hatch of the chute after pushing the bin back. They took less than 2 minutes to clear 1 rubbish chute and repeated the process for each of the other chutes under the block. It is drizzling at this point in time and Rahaman was busy wiping his face which was covered in a mixture of sweat, rain and grime.
Emptying the Bin into a Large Green Movable Bin
While walking from chute to chute, Rahaman encountered some decomposing food on the floor which have been left by people who fed the cats and birds. Empty cat feeding trays have been left unturned and was filled to the brim with rainwater. He cleared the food particles and overturned the feeding tray. This was a frequent occurrence for Rahaman where inconsiderate residents do not clear up their food scraps after feeding the birds or stray cats. Both Lablu and Rahaman said that through their experience, blocks 58 and 65 is the dirtiest where residents would just throw their rubbish off the ledge and litter the common areas on the ground level. They are unable to do anything besides expecting more work every morning.
Clogged Drains at Tanglin Halt
At 5.30pm, Rahaman finishes his day worth of work and heads back to his rented apartment in Commonwealth Drive where he shares with fellow workers. They would normally cook dinner and share it amongst everyone with the ingredients bought in Mustafa shopping center. They love curry and would cook it with either chicken, fish, mutton or vegetables, complimenting the dishes with rice. Besides shopping for their ingredients in Mustafa, Rahaman as well as the other Bangladeshi workers also remits their salary back home to their loved ones. Most of them send all their hard earned money back home while leaving only some behind for their daily meals. Supporting their families is the main reason for these workers to be working in Singapore.
They Live and Work in Tanglin Halt. Say Hello to Them! =)
When asked about the future plans, Rahaman as well as Lablu and Rashid replied, “We would work here as long as our employers renew our passes! If they do not, then we would have no choice but to find another job back home. We are happy to be in Singapore.”
We should be grateful for these people who clear our rubbish and sweep our common areas every day without fail. On this joyous National Day, Let us thank the Bangladeshi workers that have worked so hard in maintaining the cleanliness of our beloved estate!