21 YEARS OF SERVICE BUT ENDURES A GENDER PAY GAP: THE LIFE AND PLIGHT OF ABH CLEANERS (PART 2)
This article is a product of findings by various members of ABH Press.
ABH has six blocks and a quarter, taking F block into account, and 25 floors. There are 2-5 toilets and 3 to 4 per floor, depending on how fortunate the floor is. Some floors also have just one functional toilet, fortunately for the cleaners and unfortunately for those staying on those floors. Most cleaners clean 2-3 floors every day, which might take up to six hours per day. Some clean the TV room, FCR, reading room, walkways, car park, the chess area, etc.
After over two decades of working as a cleaner in ABH, Mrs Adeoba (not her real name) still earns less than 20 dollars per month and still gets owed. Based on her monthly wage alone, she is one of the 50% of Nigerians living in extreme poverty (according to Poverty Clock) despite many years of services. From earning a little less than 2,000 naira 21 years ago, which was about 23 dollars then, she now earns 8,000 naira, which is less than 20 dollars. Effectively, while she might have seen some increase in her pay, her purchasing power has reduced during these years.
When we asked if she had any support from her husband, she said she was the only one responsible for her family. While we did not ask about her husband’s circumstances, it was enough details that she alone educated all her children up to tertiary level.
“My last child has finished OND. I don’t have money to pay for his HND. So, he has started learning to be a barber till we can afford it”.
“How about your other children? Can’t they help?”
She gave a deep sigh. She reached out because she was just paid some salary arrears for two months. She had the new mint well-wrapped and tucked somewhere in her clothes. She brought it out and counted it to further confirm she was indeed earning 8,000 naira per month.
“My other children are also struggling. I recently had to send my daughter to her husband’s house so they could at least hustle together since she cannot just be waiting for a job as a woman.”
Some days earlier, we found out that a cleaner lost her husband during the lockdown. She is now effectively left to bear the weight of her family. We also gathered that another cleaner is her family’s breadwinner as her husband is not gainfully employed. Perhaps, there are many more breadwinners scrubbing the floors of the bathroom and lifting bowls of water to the third floor for an irregular paltry salary.
Mr Olawale Salako is the Contractor in charge of ABH cleaners. He took over about seven years ago when the cleaners were earning 7,000 naira. He mentioned how he graciously decided to increase the salary by a generous sum of 1,000 naira. His contract sees him working with 13 cleaners (including the one on maternity leave), two or three gardeners, and one person to clear the gutters. He is also in charge of the four cleaners at the Ayo Falase Postgraduate Hall behind G Block.
“We heard cleaners in ABH are not being paid regularly. We wonder where the problem is from”.
“The problem is from UI. It is UI that is not paying regularly,” Mr Olawale Salako immediately said. This is most likely the right answer seeing ABH press members earlier reached out to cleaners in various halls of residence in the University to confirm if the situation was similar or not. From Independence Hall to Kenneth Mellanby Hall, Queens Hall, and Idia Hall, cleaners complained of being overworked and underpaid, if at all they are paid. We gathered that cleaners earned between 8,000 naira and 10,000.
A contact who reached out after our Vox Pop mentioned that the cleaners in Jaja during her industrial training were owed salaries during the lockdown despite earning around 10,000 per month. She, like many other workers in the clinic, had had to give them money a lot of times.
Embattled by these revelations, we decided to reach out to the Contractor. From our conversation, we noticed the obvious pay gap between the cleaners and the gardeners. The Contractor revealed that the gardeners earned either 12,000 naira or 15,000 naira. So, we asked why the gardeners should earn more than the cleaners. Here is his response.
“There are many factors that militate (sic) for gardeners taking more than cleaners. One, they are men. Two, they don’t have side way (sic) jobs. The women have the opportunity to do other jobs, like washing clothes and fetching water, was which I allow them. So, this allows them to augment their purse. But the men don’t have that opportunity”
“But if the men want to wash, they can wash too. And some of these women are breadwinners. How are they different from the men that mow the lawn twice or thrice a week?” We asked.
“It is not twice or thrice a week. You are just saying that. It is daily they cut the grasses. Just that sometimes, a gardener can choose to work two days job in one day.”
“How do they differentiate between today’s job and tomorrow’s?”
“If he should work for two hours today, he can work for four hours tomorrow. They have an area they are plan to cut per day.”
This begged another question, while the answer is obvious “can a cleaner also choose to clean for two days in one day?” Anyone who has stayed long enough in ABH knows the gardeners don’t work every day. Let us not even talk about the man paid to clear the gutters. Although we cannot say these gardeners are well-paid either, there is absolutely no justification for the gender pay gap. The World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 139th of 156 countries in the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. This situation immediately tells us why.
On the other hand, the Contractor mentioned that he recently paid for two months. He noted that the University actually paid just one month, but he decided to add another month. We can confirm that the cleaners were recently paid for two months. We will shed more light on our interview with the Contractor in the next part of this investigation. How much does UI pay per cleaner? Have the cleaners and contractors done anything to improve the pay and consistency? What do the Hall Executives have to say about this?