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While many of us were safe at home during Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdowns, cleaners were out at work keeping the public safe. Cleaners were tasked with sanitising public transport, retail centres and office buildings to prevent the virus from spreading. Before joining the team at CAF, Pritika (pictured above) was a CAF Representative and cleaner at one Eastgate Bondi Junction, a busy shopping centre located in one of Sydney’s COVID-19 hotspots. I interviewed Pritika about her experience of working as a CAF Representative and cleaner during this time:

Tell us a little a bit about yourself.

My name is Pritika. I came over to Australia as an international student to finish my Bachelor of Business degree. Because I’m an international student, I like travelling around Australia and seeing new places. Other than that, I’m a bit of a homebody and enjoy time relaxing at home and watching TV.  I recently started working at CAF as a Worker Engagement Officer. I was already familiar with CAF as an organisation and their mission, as I had previously worked as a cleaner and CAF representative at Eastgate Bondi Junction, a CAF-certified site. My role at CAF involves talking to CAF Representatives about what the environment is like onsite and building relationships with cleaners. I feel like they can relate to me because I was a cleaner, and so understand the challenges and rewards of the job.

Why did you become a cleaner?

I started working as a cleaner because it was a job that could work around my schedule as a student. When I first moved to Australia, I could only work 40 hours a fortnight which was difficult because Sydney is an expensive city to live in. When I graduated a few years later, the pandemic had arrived in Sydney, I struggled to find full work in my field. Luckily, I was offered a full-time cleaning job at Eastgate, and because I was no longer a full-time student there was no longer a restriction on the hours I could work.

What did you find the benefits of working as a cleaner?

Definitely the job satisfaction. Working in retail is really busy and all types of people from different walks of life come in. I liked making other people feel comfortable and safe. This was important during COVID-19. A lot of customers were really scared about catching the virus. Eastgate is a grocery shopping centre, and so there were a lot of people coming in during lockdown. Every surface needed to be cleaned and sanitised, whereas previously not to the same level. People were really worried about their health because was a COVID-19 hotspot.

What was it like working as a cleaner at a COVID-19 hotspot?

It was scary, getting up every day and going to work when you know there is a deadly virus spreading around. I felt lucky that I was working at a CAF-certified building during this time. We were provided with COVID-19 resources and regular training through zoom, because in-person events weren’t allowed, and had access to PPE, like masks and gloves, to protect ourselves. As a safety measure, cleaners at Eastgate were required to take a PCR test every week and self-isolate if they had COVID-19 symptoms. We were allowed to take sick leave if we needed to self-isolate.

What concerns were cleaners coming to you with during this period?

The main concerns cleaners came to me with were related to health and safety. Cleaners were scared to come in to work because they were worried about catching COVID-19 and passing it on to their friends and family. As a CAF Representative, I would be in regular contact with United Workers Union organisers and the Building Managers at Eastgate to discuss cleaners’ concerns and work out solutions. Overall, I feel that cleaners felt supported knowing that they had the information and resources to keep themselves safe. The measures ISPT put in place were really successful, in the time I worked at Eastgate very few staff left and none of the cleaners caught COVID-19.

Did you feel cleaners at your building were appreciated throughout the pandemic?

Working at Eastgate I was quite lucky, most customers were appreciative of our cleaning services. The appreciation increased because of the pandemic. A lot of customers would come up to cleaners on-site and thank them and make comments about what a great job they were doing. You would get the odd person here or there that would make racist comments or tell us ‘You’re not cleaning this correctly’, but on the whole people were grateful for the work that we did. One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic is that it highlighted the great work that cleaners do. As frontline workers, it was scary for cleaners to get up and go to work every day during the lockdowns, but we did it. I hope that cleaners continue to be valued and appreciated to the same extent in future.

To learn more about CAF Building Certification and how to lifts labour standards for cleaners, visit our CAF Building Certification page.

Cleaning Accountability Framework Ltd.