A 67-year-old cleaner died last summer in the men's staff lounge on the basement floor of Seoul National University's Gwanak campus. The tragedy has led to calls for improvements to the work and rest environments of university cleaning staff. There is a staff lounge in every building where we attend classes. Many of you might remember a cleaner you met and greeted on your way to early morning classes, but have you ever thought about their work environment, especially during the hot summer months? The Dankook Herald (DKH) took a closer look.
A heat wave warning was issued this summer and a cleaner’s 1.17-square-meter rest space was not equipped with air conditioning so the occupant died in the room. The cleaner suffered from chronic heart disease, but the labor union argued that the severely unsuitable working environment worsened his condition. In fact, the staff room for the cleaners was situated below the stairs and had no windows or air conditioners to improve air circulation. The tiny enclave is used by three workers and has no dining facilities. Moreover, the outdoor temperature at the time of death was 34.6 degrees making it doubtful the ‘rest’ function of the lounge was functioning properly. Cleaners at Seoul National University were transferred from non-regular workers to full-time ones, but the issue of staff lounges have not yet been resolved.
We asked cleaners at Dankook University about their working conditions. As a result of the survey at both Jukjeon and Cheonan campuses, workers said they are not looking for any changes in their conditions just yet. Their rest times are flexible and are arranged according to the amount of work they have each day, but they usually work for six hours a day. They have their own staff-lounge in each building and it is shared between five female workers and one male. Most said they were satisfied with their staff lounge and that the size of lounge in comparison to the number of staff members assigned to it is appropriate. Overall, DKU cleaning staff are satisfied with their treatment and working environment.
However, they did take this opportunity to raise some concerns about student behavior that makes their jobs more difficult. One worker at the Jukjeon campus said some students throw tissue into the urinals. This causes a bad smell in the men’s restrooms and has to stop. Moreover, public toilet laws have changed, forcing the university to remove the ‘recycle bin’ in each toilet. In the case of the women’s toilets, there is now only a ‘Sanitaryware Collection box’ for disposal of sanitary pads. However, some Dankookians are throwing their used tissue in these collection boxes leaving an unpleasant clean-up for the local staff. Cleaners also mentioned students should be careful not to use too much tissue as it blocks the toilets and they are left to deal with the situation. One of the cleaners was quoted saying, “If Dankookians pay more attention, the sanitation at DKU will be better.”
Dankook University has a well-maintained work and rest environment for its cleaning staff. At first we were worried about conducting this interview, but they welcomed us warmly with bright smiles. Cleaners and other school staff work to create a better environment for the students, so our administration needs to make an effort to ensure we maintain a healthy and safe working environment for them. More importantly, we need to be more considerate of their needs. The workers expressed that when the students are welcoming and friendly, they feel a great sense of reward, so starting tomorrow, try and say hello first. It just may make someone else’s day.
김건희, 서채원 firstname.lastname@example.org`