Cleaners share their stories in new anthology

E tū Industry Council member Mele Peaua was excited to tell her story through poetry

Veteran cleaner, E tū Industry Council member and activist Mele Peaua has one aim: that cleaners have decent conditions, the Living Wage, and to know that they aren’t alone.

The Lower Hutt resident, who immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand from her native Tonga at 17 and began a cleaning job in a motel the same day, has shared her story as part of a new anthology by cleaners – past and present – on what it means to be a cleaner.

Published in November, Somewhere a cleaner, features poetry and prose by 93 Kiwi writers, including Mele. It was launched at Parliament by Labour MP and former refugee Ibrahim Omer, who worked as a cleaner himself for years at Victoria University to fund his studies.

Mele says she is very excited to see the lives of cleaners explored in a book and hopes it will help them to feel less alone.

“I’m not just talking about my own experience, what I go through – my problems are the same as all other cleaners.”

Her poem also tells the story of her journey, she says.

“How in the beginning, I came from the [Pacific] Islands, talking about cleaners fighting [for their rights] during bargaining and all those kinds of things.”

Mele says improving conditions through Fair Pay Agreements and bringing all cleaners up to at least the Living Wage is essential. And poetry is a good way to get the message across, she says.

“COVID-19 pushed cleaners to see how important they are. We’d like to see them appreciated – we make a massive difference in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

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