THE Business Times, which turns 40 on October 1 on Saturday, celebrated its birthday early on Monday evening with the hardworking people who keep the newsroom spick and span.
Some 70 of the 100 cleaners, who are also responsible for the cleanliness of the other premises in the sprawling Singapore Press Holdings building in Toa Payoh North, turned up at 5pm sharp in BT's newsroom to have a piping hot meal of curry chicken, fried bee hoon and other local goodies with BT editors and journalists.
Before the food was dished up, BT editor Alvin Tay presented NTUC FairPrice vouchers worth S$40 to each of the cleaners, explaining that the amount marks BT's 40th anniversary. Those who were not present will be given their vouchers at a later date.
"We turn 40 this Saturday and we wanted to do something meaningful to commemorate this special occasion," Mr Tay said. "The BT editors and staff chipped in out of their own wallets and together we contributed S$5,000 to pay for dinner and the vouchers. We just want to show our appreciation to these uncles and aunties who keep our newsroom and toilets spick and span every day," he added.
Ganesan A/L Selvaraju, assistant project manager of ISS Facility Services, the cleaners' employer, said the cleaners comprise three groups: the part-time morning shift workers who draw a monthly salary of S$400-plus each; the evening part-timers who make S$500-plus; and the full-time workers who are paid between S$1,000 and S$1,500.
He said ISS and NTUC hold an annual dinner party for the cleaners who work in SPH, but BT's gesture is the first time a "department" has organised such an event.
Among them was Sam Lim, who said that the voucher BT gave them was the biggest they have received. Usually, they get around S$20, he said. "It's fantastic and we're very grateful."
Many of the cleaners have worked with ISS for up to 12 years. The youngest are in their 20s. The oldest is 79-year-old Lui Hock Seng, who was featured last month in BT for his inspiring, black-and-white photographs of old Singapore.
It's because of these "aunties and uncles", as the cleaners are endearingly known to the journalists, that BT staff can look forward to coming to work in a pleasant and healthy newsroom every morning, BT associate news editor Angela Tan noted.
Senior correspondent Anita Gabriel added: "We see them daily, working along our corridors and our desks. Some may even seem 'faceless' to us. This is a gesture to show them that we acknowledge their hard work and are grateful."
According to BT's stock market guru R Sivanithy, besides cleaning, disinfecting and scubbing every surface they come into contact with, the principled "aunties and uncles" also help to recover lost valuables such as wallets, handphones and iPads left behind by reporters in their mad dash to meet newsmakers outside the office.
Vivien Shiao, BT's SME beat reporter and editor of its SME Magazine added: "Some of the aunties and uncles go the extra mile (in their work)." She said it makes her day every morning to see the spritely seniors greeting her with smiles and asking if she had taken her breakfast. "That's very nice."
Lee Meixian, who covers property news for BT, observed that the cleaners are very hardworking and many hold more than one "thankless" job because they are not well-paid.
"I hope (the vouchers") will ease their burden a bit," she said.