A Day as a Bricklayer Labourer

first mix
I turned up at work without job experience. According to Towkay, I have a brain with good ram. Perhaps then I could at least remember what he have been telling me about his work. Since I was told I would be getting paid, I had no intention making that my OJT or orientation honeymoon. I wanted to produce work worth the salt. After hearing so much about bricklaying from Stephen, I gathered that there was only one rule for a labourer to remember - a good labourer works the bricklayer hard. 

That simply means if the bricklayer gets all his supplies on time, every time, all the time, he will be at his optimal efficiency. Since the core bricklaying activities are on the critical path, the least delays, the better. Thus it is foolish to attribute a labourer's job as a mere brute job. That will be so far from the truth. To perform the role effectively, a labourer must have a good sense of observation, a good feel of sequence, the mental aptitude to forecast timings of activities accurately and ability to carry out physical work to run the show like clockwork. Brute strength alone isn't sufficient.

Having said that, being physically fit is paramount to perform the role. "Eye power" might have work well elsewhere but not in such cases. Bricklayers need bricks but  not all the bricks that he needs at one go. My first lesson was to carry 4 bricks at a time (beginner's level) so that I would be able to load up a wheelbarrow full of bricks to push into the work place. Pushing a wheelbarrow really looks easy on television. I soon found out otherwise. I had trouble pushing a full load up a little kerb only to find out (fortunately quickly enough) by myself that I had to lean forward and make a surge of faith to clear a kerb. After that, I had to push the wheelbarrow through a "crank course", passing through a tiny corridor with 2 doorways just wide enough for the wheelbarrow to pass. After unloading the bricks, the bricklayer could not start work until I provide him the "mud" (cement+sand+water mix). Getting the mixture done by hand was slower than I thought but the job had to be done and delivered. Steph commented it would be far easier for me if we had his mixer with us. He was considering buying a used trailer so that he could load the bulkier equipment and material up in future, if he decided to do more of these on regular basis. I was told by Steph that there is a practice of fining the apprentice with a crate of beer if he tips a wheelbarrow over so I took special care not to let it happen. It wouldn't be that easy to get free beer out of me.

The cycle repeated several times. The challenge remained keeping the bricklayer busy throughout. I tried clearing debris between breaks when I finally put myself ahead of Steph for a few minutes. Steph told me before that the labourer would have time to rest. That was either a lie or I was just too slow. Never mind that I didn't get to slack around for a few moments. At least I kept him rather busy, or so I thought. Maybe he was working really slowly? I couldn't tell.

Note: not my sexy butt
It is normally assumed that a labourer to a bricklayer have to have strong arms and upper body strength to lift heavy loads. I found that wasn't the case. For none of my muscles in the upper body was aching the next morning. Instead, there were two prominent areas I felt the strain, at the hamstrings and lower back. Contrary to beliefs, the lower body is worked a lot more than the upper body in this job.

Stephen wasn't too please with the work, due to some technicalities I wouldn't elaborate here. I thought he was too hard on himself. He did a great job despite the circumstances (not his fault) and having a noob as his assistance. 

I was happy at the end of the day. There has been a lot of thrash talk about dirty hands, clean money but you know, they are not wrong. Many Singaporeans will be worrying why there are fellow Singaporeans who will want to do such jobs overseas and wonder what is the point of immigration if there isn't going to be a higher quality of life. That is the difference between hearsay and experiencing it yourself. I never felt free-er or happier doing that Saturday odd job that any managerial level job I had done in my Singapore days. There was nobody to report to, no one to answer to, not permit to apply, no safety supervisor around to pick a bone. We simply needed to self regulate as responsible working adults and finish the job with minimal fuss. Despite the chores, I hardly break a sweat in the cool late Winter weather. The customer seemed happy with the job so we cleaned up the place and left.

Though I wouldn't mind not getting paid, Stephen did it anyway. I didn't want to push money around so I accepted it. So I had an afternoon socialising with a friend, a gym workout and getting paid for it. A good use of time. I couldn't complain. As for how good my work was, I wouldn't say getting paid was a good indication. If I were to be asked to help out again in future, that would be the more accurate verdict.


  1. Technical problem? Mix no good? Filling too thick? Not level?

  2. Hi, may i ask how much is the usual hourly rate for newbie? thanks in advance.

    1. http://asingaporeanson.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/singaporean-considering-bricklaying-as.html

  3. Extremely insightful on the analysis and thought process of a supporting laborer's job. There is appreciation of situation, planning & skill involved. If only our scholar-ministers understand this and give due recognition to all professions by providing decent living minimum wages. Only in Australia.