With the ever increasing cost of living, everyone would be thrilled with the idea of buying quality and readily available goods for less. Similarly, as the wave of neoliberalism sweeps across the globe, profits are amplified and economies stabilized. That is the ultimate embodiment of neoliberalism; passing the market test.
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Challenges have been encountered but paramount attention has only been on immediate effects of structural changes and of other policies especially in the developing countries.
The socio cultural implication of neoliberalism, more so ethical implications on a majority of seemingly invisible workforce, has since been ignored.
This paper seeks to provide an in depth scrutiny of global reestablishment by drawing attention on what it means for the workers. It seeks to analyze the current global labor policies and their impacts on the labor market with special attention to its effects on the working conditions of the cleaners.
Neoliberalism is a term used to describe an attempt by governments to restructure and stabilize their economies through decentralization, increasingly involving the private sector in the economic and political affairs and regularizing the market.
This approach was adopted by a number of nations in their quest for economical policies that would reduce inflation and foster economic growth. It involves a combination of economic policies which institutionalize sectors through reforming or changing whole political and economic setups.
Its ultimate goals involve handing over the control of the economy to the private industry with the hope that it will improve governance and boost the economy.
Ideally, neoliberalism is expected to harness and transform into operations the strategies that employ the language of the market, the competence, consumer preference, self independence and conventional thinking to move the risk from states and institutions to individuals or groups and spread out the concept to the social spheres.
However, these attempts have on the other hand culminated into a platform where markets are no longer regulated; workers are being exploited by their employers, environmental degeneration and impunity at almost all levels of governance.
The invisible worker
While it has managed to spearhead economic growth across nations, neoliberalism has degraded the working and living conditions of the workers and promoted deception on the part of employers in this industry.
The shifting of risk from the government corporations to the private sector has created a situation where individuals and groups which have monopolized the cleaning industry have turned deceptive. They are keen to look into their own interests and take care of their business empires at the expense of employees.
In the contracts that bind their employees to them, their conditions are provisional and the workers are engaged on equally provisional basis and not considered as real employees. This leaves them in a vulnerable situation since they are stripped off employee rights such as insurance, paid holidays among others.
This was a common phenomenon in London during the 1970s. A similar situation was observed recently in Santiago where a bathroom attendant not only single handedly takes charge of the washroom but he is also expected to take care of collecting the charging fee and provide the bathroom toiletries (Aguiar and Andrew, 89).
This is the situation especially in the cleaning industry all over the world. Cleaners maintain upscale shopping places, modern offices and hotels yet this group of workers has never been paid much attention. More often than not they are looked down upon.
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Majority of the cleaners are not valued and are often subjected to mistreatment. Owing to their low wages and status, they happen to live in the most adverse conditions in the worst shanties in big cities. The cleaner is actually in a modern world, yet has an outsider relation with.
Lack of government policies that describe fair employment and working conditions such as the required working hours, standard wages and working conditions only serves to expose workers to further vulnerability, worsening their deplorable conditions.
The bonding of the worker’s legal rights with the employers undermines their rights and gives absolute control of the worker to the employer creating an unbalanced power relationship. Wal-Mart for instance succeeds by capitalizing on the low wage low benefit premise of employment. Their employment policies are wanting.
The success of the company is at the expense of workers who endure the lowest wages, substandard working conditions, lacking healthcare, security among other disturbing issues. Workers at Wal-Mart have unspecified working hours and their wages are comparatively lower than those of a normal retail employee.
Many workers are compelled to work long hours, denied breaks and in many cases are denied overtime wages. It is not a new phenomenon for Wal-Mart to give lower wages when sales go down.
Discrimination still remains an issue despite most governments’ attempts at reforming the cleaning industry. Contracting out in apartheid South Africa and its subsequent neoliberal post apartheid institutions has led to increased workload and diminished pay and benefits to a large number of workers in the cleaning sector.
Just like it was in the apartheid labor system, neoliberalism has redirected the burden to the homes and communities of the poor workers through policies such as “rational” effecting of change in public institutions. There still exists segregation in places such as universities and other institutions of higher learning.
Attempts have been made by the “invisible” workers to restore and defend their pride as workers. This is all done with the understanding that theirs is an equally important work which the top echelons of management cannot do by themselves.
The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s in Britain was such an attempt to organize night janitors. The subsequent strikes brought to light the plight of this disregarded type of workers.
However, the prevailing economic and political situation and the effects of privatization made unionization difficult as they increased discrepancies in the society.
Private corporations’ policies have not only wiped out small businesses but also disregarded the employees’ rights and caused serious harm to the environment.
By exploiting technology and the rising global economy (a product of neoliberalism), corporations like Wal-Mart have completely altered the American economy and greatly influenced the global economic balance.
The seller has become more powerful than the producer. Consequently, retailers are coercing the manufacturers to shift production overseas. This quest has led to the joint undertakings between Wal-Mart, a prominent US retailer of most consumer goods and China.
While the company rummages the world for less costly suppliers that benefit the American buyer, just how do the workers in the supplying nations fare?
Wal-Mart is the epitome of neoliberals ideal; the best thing to have ever happened to the American and world economy as it happens to not only produce what the consumer needs but also deliver a variety of goods at very affordable prices.
However, what are the implications of low priced products to the people who work for these companies? It is not only increasing the number of jobless people in the streets but is also responsible for the ever increasing low standards of living not just for the American people but also for those working in the diaspora.
While these products are achievable for the American consumer, the “everyday low prices” is an issue of concern not just for the consumer but more so for the worker.
The enterprising spirit that is responsible for these lower prices in Wal-Mart outlets and similar places happen to impinge on the ability of large numbers of workers to reap satisfactory wages and respectable benefits that would enable them lead a steady life.
The flippant attitude from the governments towards this group of workers exposes them to maltreatment and exploitation.
In an attempt to boost economic growth and development, companies are putting up measures to modernize and civilize this workforce by employing austere rules which end up restricting their freedom of movement and dictating their codes of conduct while at the work place.
For instance Wal-Mart’s store policy of locking in nighttime workers not only inconveniences the employees but also possesses a great security hazard in times of emergencies.
Recompense for workers
Organizing workers of this group has proved to be quite a challenge. Among the major challenges is the fact that they are among the lowest paid.
This means that most cannot manage to meet some of the demands of the unions like union dues. More often than not, their working places are small and scattered geographically. This proves an obstacle in mobilizing workers.
At the same time, they are among the most watched of all employees. These are among the challenges that prompted the cleaners’ strikes in the 1970s in London and the Justice for Janitors Movement in the USA in the 1990s (Aguiar and Andrew 214).
Unionization of these workers is low in many countries. This calls for establishment of new forms of workers organization. These should take the bottom up approach; from the grassroots levels to the highest echelons and high mobilization and participation of workers.
A perfect example of such an approach is The Justice for Janitors crusade which has been quite successful. It is a more decentralized perspective to workers unionization owing to its awareness of the local labor market situation. It bases its membership on locality and not the work place.
It is the kind of approach through which unnoticed workers can come together to confront a mutual enemy: larger companies. Local unions are strengthened through the skillful organizational attempts by trained organizers from the national union.
Other models like the Service Employees’ International Union advocate for de- concentration of power to a variety of national union apparatus.
Though there are geographical issues at play in the movement, it becomes necessary to come up with ploys that would harmonize the movements and strategies that are not only sensitive to the local needs but also able to challenge these private corporations be they local, national or global.
Through this, workers are able to battle for varying rights and at the same time apply the benefits of their struggle to all employees in that field.
How labor policies can be reformed to serve the cleaners and domestic workers better
Labor policies ought to influence laws and regulations that would assist in strengthening organizations of informal employees through facilitating policy discourse and procedures that involve representatives of these organizations.
Policy makers, economic strategists and the global community should recognize, understand and give support to the lower working classes in their organizations.
Concerning institutional discrimination, international labor assemblies ought to put into consideration the incomparable work delineation of this workforce and design or reconcile their policies in a manner that will ensure fairness.
Government policies should also take into consideration the needs of the workers and the demands for the workers and come up with laws and regulations that would provide for quality care of their needs and their families’ even as they fill those positions.
It is also necessary for the international community to establish global standards for domestic workers. This will ensure that their human rights are not violated and their legal rights are protected. It will also ensure that the workers are accorded the recognition and equal protection just like other workers similar fields of work.
Whether in the developed or developing world, whether large or small, the operations, wages and working conditions of private corporations bear resemblance to each other. While it is good for consumers to access products at a lower price, the workers need also earn decent wages for their labor.
The cleaning sector is one of its kinds. Therefore, there is need for adjustments in the labor policies and the immigration policies so as to eradicate the possibility of misuse and mistreatment of workers.
Aguiar, Luis and Herod Andrew (eds). The Dirty Work of Neoliberalism: Cleaners in the Global Economy. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2006. Print.
Wal-Mart video-‘Is Wal-Mart Good for America‘. Web.