Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
Sometimes a writer can create an image that can last a lifetime in your mind.
I have one of those. A long time ago, in my late teens, I read a book titled Calcutta written, I think, by Geoffrey Moorhouse. But I'm sure about that single imagery that leapt out of that paperback to seize a piece of real estate in my memory bank.
The writer was in a restaurant in Calcutta awaiting his meal when he spied this lean worker on all fours working. He described the worker's movement as being hidden in the substrata of the surrounding public perception. Described as both a physically controlled movement and a sociological position.
He was cleaning the floor, navigating seamlessly through, between the customers sitting on chairs at their tables. Working below their social perception and giving the customers no reason to notice his presence.
His invisibility was due to both the consummate physical skills of the worker and his knowledge of his place within the ancient, deeply-embedded caste system, a system shared by the customers who also knew their place.
The eyes of the foreign author, an outsider, captured a third reality. It saw what was an invisible understanding.
Today, October 20, is Thank Your Cleaner Day. A global initiative started back in 2015. While those yesteryears started a well deserved focus on an important, but undervalued, workforce, the advent of the Covid pandemic has increased the importance of these workers.
There are 40,000 of them at present in Aotearoa New Zealand. What was previously a largely invisible workforce was suddenly thrust into the forefront of a trench warfare against an invisible enemy.
They and their families were now in danger as they cleaned and disinfected potential places of high infection like international airports, places where health workers operated like clinics and hospitals, places of quarantine, and the increasing number of 'locations of interest' where they had to upskill to execute deep cleansing using different chemicals, safety equipment and methods.
I have always had an affinity with cleaners. As a first year Vic University, an international student, I cleaned every night to support myself financially. The Internal Affairs Department hired the workers cleaning government departments.
My cleaning colleagues I noted, even back then, were predominantly Māori and Pacific Islanders. Today, they are still the bulk of workers in this sector.
We always need to recognise and be grateful for the workers around us, especially those who work at the forefront of the services sector.
Unlike that Calcutta experience, Kiwis are generally egalitarian in culture but still the nuances and the subtle social superiority continues to exist and we do see social commentators describe cleaners as the invisible workforce. We need to recognise them and the work they do. They need to be paid better.
On Monday, on behalf of council, I gave the individuals of the team that clean our offices a small token of appreciation. And let me take the opportunity now to point out that meeting our obligation to get vaccinated helps reduce the potential infection of our hardworking frontline workers like our cleaners and their whānau.
On that note, I must congratulate all those who helped organise and run the Super Saturday vaccination campaign.
Deputy mayor Holborow and I travelled from Ōtaki to Waikanae and Paraparaumu, and back to Ōtaki, supporting the campaign. It was an awesome experience to see so many many people turn up to take their shots.
We particularly want to compliment Māoriland Hub in Ōtaki and Hora Te Pai & Compass Health in Waikanae and Paraparumu for their sterling work. We need to continue to press on with this campaign.