How Does Your School Treat its Maintenance People?

Coming from the West, International Educators believe in treating people with respect and fairness. From the floor sweeper and the ditch digger to the doctor and the CEO, Western cultures are built on the right to fair and equal treatment. If those rights are violated, we have access to legal recourse. No one is powerless.

International school owners, on the other hand, have been widely known to exploit “powerless” workers. I’m talking about grounds keepers, maids and cleaners, cafeteria workers, maintenance men, construction personnel, guards, drivers and the like. The very schools that shortchange teachers on housing, health insurance and shipping, for example, are generally the same schools mistreating local-hire workers, in many countries with little to no recourse in the case of unfair treatment.

If you’ve experienced a wealthy parent with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, you’re no stranger to the dichotomy of money/power vs. ‘lowly teacher’ status. Now, imagine yourself a grounds keeper up against a wealthy school owner with this same self-serving attitude. If you dared to speak up you’d soon find yourself out of a job, and no doubt unable to use your current employer for a reference. With a family to feed and bills to pay you’d never rock the boat if you were this grounds keeper.

Wages for school work-staff are set by the school owner or school board, depending on the ownership structure. But that’s just the half of it. The day-to-day mistreatment of workers is almost always at the hands of the Head of Maintenance, who himself will be a local-hire. Having a bit of power bestowed upon him (and it is always a “him) by the school owner, the Head of Maintenance can summarily deny time off for doctor appointments, ignore safety concerns, demand long hours, expect unrealistic deadlines and essentially treat his staff like serfs. A little power in a society in which he, too, is powerless, has gone to his head.

School owners who underpay workers, and Heads of Maintenance who mistreat workers are a sad commentary on mankind and something we as educators have a responsibility to change. As teachers, when we see inequities we can go straight to the top and expose these injustices. If we don’t get satisfaction there, we can look outside the school. A visit to the local labor office or newspaper office may be in store. But, looking the other way is surely not the answer.

ISR asks:  How does your school treat its Maintenance people? If you, as a teacher, see injustices, what recourse do you or your colleagues have? Do you have advice for those teachers who would like to see improvements in how their school treats the local hire workers? Please SHARE!

14 thoughts on “How Does Your School Treat its Maintenance People?

  1. It is important for schools to treat all staff with respect so that we can show our students how treating people with respect is so important.

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  2. The injustice we see quite often in international schools. A very sad situation indeed.
    Just a tiny correction – it’s not only the West who sees the wrong here. We’ve seen staff from the host countries in Asia and elsewhere fighting for what’s right. Having said that, it’s important to make sure that when you fight for it, you have the locals on board as well. Now discuss what the pros and cons are before confronting the owner. Some owners are vindictive that they will make the local staff “pay” for what the teachers may have done on their behalf. They could get fired without any procedures in place. Speaking of procedures, it also varies from place to place. Look at not just the politics of the school but the culture as well. In some countries in Africa, people accept the way things are just because they’ve been the standards they grew up with. You can’t quickly change the standards just because they are not your standards. Locals need to know first what is it that you’re upset about and why is it wrong judging it against your definition of justice. Also, refer to the school’s values and aims; the definition of their community and use it to justify to the school what you’re fighting for.
    Hope this helps and gives you a fair picture of what it’s like to bring up concerns regarding justice in a school.

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  3. At my school in Ecuador it was reported to the director that the head of maintenance was helping himself to supplies over the weekend, in the form of construction materials for the new building. One of the workers reported it to me and I passed the information on to the director. The worker ended up loosing his job and the head of maintenance got a slap on the wrist. The director felt sorry for the head of maintenance because he had two kids in the school for which he paid nothing. If he was fired it would be hurting his kids who would have to leave the school. Directors with even the best of intentions can just surprise the crap out of your sometimes. Talk about an injustice!

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  4. I teach at a Catholic school that preaches, but doesn’t practice, treating people well. The cleaners have more work to do than at local schools (where kids must clean the actual classrooms themselves), and get paid less for the privilege. They have no recourse to trying to improve their conditions, even with most teachers supporting a minor reduction in our own salary if it corresponded to increases to the salaries of support staff. They are often frequently scolded if things like AC gets left on, even though that’s the fault of the teacher using the room. A gardener who suffered a broken arm was basically told to turn up or get turned out, despite more than a decade of service. The lack of respect shown to hard-working support staff says a lot about the real moral values of the school administration, who are all nuns.

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  5. Our school contracts out the cleaning and maintenance staff. Sodexo does the cafeteria. Each of these groups works the Chinese staff ten to twelve hours per day..sometimes longer. Also, people are treated differently based on their position. The Ayis (cleaning staff) are basically treated as invisible while the sucking up to the directors and principals is embarrassing to watch. It is part of the culture of people here, adults AND students. It is Chinese cultural thing where a person and the relationship to that person is viewed as transactional with potential. What guanxi (connections) can I get out this relationship. A maintenance person or cleaning lady is seen as worthless to the average Chinese person.

    Yes, western countries have done atrocious things in the past and sometimes in the present as has every group of people. Native American wiped out other Native American tribes. African tribes have genocided other tribes. All groups having history of evil does not mean we can’t discuss the obvious continuing bad cultural characteristics in some areas. This is piss poor logic. Saying no one should stand up to the oppression because all countries have been guilty does not help those oppressed as they are begging for a champion. Liberals with their moral relativism and tolerance help no one, especially the oppressed.

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    1. What brought on the smash on liberals? You couldn’t be more wrong. Conservatives and Liberals having nothing to do with this Let’s keep politics out of this discussion.

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  6. Our head of maintenance is wonderful. But he hasn’t answered the school survey in 10 years because he doesn’t see change and is worried he has seen too much. Meanwhile his employees were made to answer the surveys translated by their other bosses with computer screens facing the bosses. No mother tongue survey, no anonymity, no support. Any educator worth his or her salt knows that these staffers are the foundation of a school. Very rarely do HoS leaders look for ways to bridge the local and international hiring gap and labor laws. A true pity.

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  7. Clearly from the replies of “Not White” and “Shiv Gaur” I guessed they are not international teachers nor teachers for that matter because if they are then they’re failing their students!
    Please remember that this site is about international schools therefore the question is about maintenance workers in international schools and how they’re treated. The main statement is encouraging international teachers to say ‘No’ because in the West every worker has some organisation to go to if they’re treated badly and employers cannot get away with it.

    Anyway, my response to the main statement is that, the maintenance workers should get together and talk to someone in their embassies because these issues take time and most expats finish their two year contracts and move on. I think it’s best to share our knowledge with the maintenance workers so they can fight for themselves after we’ve left. We can’t and we shouldn’t when we know we won’t be in the country for long.
    My two cents.

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  8. My school treats the workers well. They get a bit more than the local wage, holidays and even medical expenses for themselves and their family. They all seem to be in good spirits and happy to be at our school. We are located in Jakarta. I worked at a school in Guatemala earlier in my career and the treatment these workers suffered would have put their boss in jail in the States. Talking to the director about the situation he told me, “mind my own business, this isn’t my country.” I lasted one year at this school and ran. They treated the teachers badly, too.

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  9. “Coming from the West, International Educators believe in treating people with respect and fairness.” Wow. Colonize the world again and enslave all non whites until they are “civilized”. Go Monroe Doctrine.

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    1. The topic is how schools treat their workers. How about we stay on topic and you go vent someplace else. We all know the West has committed horrible atrocities. That’s not the topic. I hope the moderator removes your comments as they are off topic. We’re all tired of people that hijack topics.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow! Does the West have a monopoly over treating people with respect and fairness? Till 60s you were lynching blacks in the US…just one example.

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