A former cleaner weighs in on “cleanergate”

Gergana Krasteva shares the industry's secrets

The latest internet divide started by Owen Jones saw middle-class professionals defending their right to rehire their domestic cleaners. As a former cleaner, there are a few things I want you to know about the industry. By Gergana Krasteva.

Leave it to a Tory government to ease lockdown measures because it cannot cope without domestic cleaners.

The latest internet divide started by journalist Owen Jones saw middle-class professionals defending their right to rehire their domestic cleaners.

There are many problems surrounding the industry that amounts to more than 900,000 mostly female workers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – from appallingly low wages, cash-in-hand payments and zero-hour contracts to shortage of PPE.

I should know, because I was one.

My pristine CV does not feature the line ‘former illegal cleaner’, probably because of the bleak attitude towards unskilled Eastern European women ‘taking’ British jobs.

I arrived in London in 2012 when Bulgarians needed a visa to work in the country, so I found an agency in North London that did not care if I had one.

For them, I was just another Eastern European woman that had agreed to work for less than minimum wage – this varied between four and five pounds an hour.

I spent most of my working day on the public transport, from one home to another, carrying a numbingly heavy rucksack stocked with bottles of disinfectant.

I cleaned grubby student halls over the summer and private homes for the rest of the year, and some of the highlights included a client who followed me around his flat while I mopped to tell me about how he cheated on his girlfriend.

Despite the anxiety that these memories bring me, it was not the physical work that bothered me as much as the uncertainty that came hand-in-hand, which is now amplified by the pandemic for those in the industry.

The internet debacle branded as ‘Cleanergate’ asked many self-defining questions – should I have a cleaner, should I ask them to come back to work, should I put them on furlough while they stay at home?

The truth is there is nothing immoral about having a cleaner – some people are too busy to devote time to chores and some do not want to, and I would have not survived without the work.

That said, while there is nothing inherently exploitative about domestic labour as a concept, asking your cleaner to return to work without appropriate PPE and strict safety guidelines during a pandemic, is irresponsible.

While the government still debates whether public transport is safe and if facemasks provide appropriate protection, rather than putting the pressure on domestic cleaners by asking them if they wish to be rehired, put them on furlough and pay their wages.

Whether you clean your house in the meantime is up to you.