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Much-needed campaign to improve cleaners' working conditions spearheaded by industry taskforce

A much-needed campaign to promote good working conditions in the cleaning industry has been launched by an industry-led taskforce set up by the Equality & Human Rights Commission. It includes leading businesses, trade associations and trade unions.

The Commission convened the taskforce following publication of its report, 'The Invisible Workforce: employment practices in the cleaning sector', which set out the taskforce's findings on employment practices in the commercial cleaning sector in England, Scotland and Wales. For while some cleaners fare very well, others are having a miserable time...

The report found many examples of good practice. These included cleaning firms with policies in place to promote equality and also clients who enter into longer-term contracts. These help firms to develop positive relationships with suppliers and also encourage investment in workforce development, leading to greater job stability.

The report also found that some employers did not provide contracts to staff. Further, some failed to pay their employees in full, or to pay sickness or holiday leave entitlements Many cleaning operatives are female migrants, who spoke of being 'invisible', of being treated badly compared to other employees, and said they did not understand their rights.

In the foreward, Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equality & Human Rights Commission writes:

"Many workers do not have their employment rights upheld. They may be bullied or discriminated against by supervisors, experience problems obtaining their pay, have excessive workloads, and are not treated with dignity or respect. Often this can be linked to procurement practices which focus mainly on reducing cost and overlook the negative impact this can have on staff turnover, absenteeism, productivity and the quality of service delivery."

Key findings include:

- Workers did not always feel they are afforded the same dignity and respect shown to others in the workplace
- A significant number told researchers that they are treated differently and worse than others, harassed and abused
- Workers spoke of being 'invisible' and 'the lowest of the low'. In most cases this was a result of the treatment by their supervisors, the client and the public
- Most cleaning firms had equality policies, and in some cases offered equality training to staff
- Migrant workers reported difficulties understanding basic employment documentation and some reported discriminatory treatment
- Although most pregnant women were treated well, some reported poor treatment or even being sacked or dismissed as a result of their pregnancy
- Word of mouth recruitment is a commonly reported route into the sector and in many cases this led to the informal segregation of the workforce by different nationalities
- Contract value determines what cleaning firms are able to pay workers. Low pay is prevalent across the sector with wages close to, or at, the National Minimum Wage
- A significant number of workers experienced problems with the underpayment or non-payment of wages. In some cases failure to resolve this led to Employment Tribunal cases
- Many workers expressed concerns about changes to terms and conditions, perceptions of different treatment and non-payment of wages
- Most of the cleaning firms have grievance policies and procedures of some kind. Workers were often not aware of these procedures, and many were scared of complaining in case they lost their job
- Researchers did not find widespread use of zero hours contracts except in in the hospitality and leisure sector
- Work intensification appears to be a growing problem with many workers reporting unrealistic workloads
- Clients often did not provide adequate facilities for workers to take breaks, such as rest rooms
- Some workers felt pressurised into coming into work when they were sick
- Workers raised few health and safety concerns. All cleaning firms had health & safety policies in place, offered relevant training of some kind, and provided workers with the personal protective equipment they needed
- Researchers found no examples of outright prohibition on freedom of association and collective bargaining, but they found a few examples of workers who said they had been discriminated against, or victimised, due to their membership of a trade union or similar organisation
- Researchers found no indicators of forced labour such as the retention of documents, or threats of violence or denunciation to the authorities. Systemic under-payment of wages may be a sign of forced labour. Some workers perceived requests to work overtime as compulsory
- The vast majority of clients outsourced their cleaning services. Contracts often place cleaning firms under enormous pressure to deliver a high quality service at the lowest cost possible. This often has a negative impact on employment practices, affecting pay, the intensity of work, job security, training and working hours. Short-term contracts that are renewed frequently fail to encourage positive relationships developing between clients and cleaning firms and contribute to these pressures

"Our evidence shows that while there is evidence of good practice in some areas, some employers in the cleaning sector are not complying with legal responsibilities," says the report. "To support the sector we have made recommendations to the key bodies in the sector. Our recommendations focus on the most significant findings, and address the need to:

- Improve working conditions for cleaning operatives
- Raise awareness of employment rights
- Establish more responsible procurement practices

To solve these problems, the taskforce developed principles for responsible procurement. The purpose of this is to encourage clients who buy in cleaning services to consider the impact of procurement on the employment practices of cleaning providers. The taskforce also developed a poster to highlight the value of cleaning operatives, and 'Your Rights at Work' postcards for cleaning firms to send to their employees explaining their employment rights.

All of the materials are available to download on the Commission's website http://bit.ly/1LoAPMIto landing page.

"The Commission's role is to promote and enforce the laws that protect our rights to fairness, dignity and respect," says EHRC deputy chair Caroline Waters. "It has been a great privilege to have worked over the past year or so with so many people who are committed to improving the working conditions of cleaning operatives.

"It is fantastic that taskforce members drawn from across business, industry, trade associations, government, voluntary bodies and trade unions have come together with their thoughts, ideas and energy, and with a real appetite for tackling the problems our original report revealed.

"We very much hope the tools we have now produced will help to bring real and lasting change for commercial cleaning operatives."

Taskforce members are:

British Cleaning Council
British Hospitality Association
British Institute of Cleaning Science
British Institute of Facilities Management
Business Services Association
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS)
Equality & Human Rights Commission
Go-Ahead Group
Health & Safety Executive
LCC Support Services
Living Wage Foundation
London Cleaning Academy
NHS Property Services
RMT (union)
The Building Futures Group
TUC (union)
Unison (union)
UNITE (union)
Xenon Group

The taskforce was also supported by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, which contributed to the development of the Responsible Procurement Principles; and The Latin American Women's Rights Service and ABCD which contributed to the development of the Know Your Rights briefing and postcards.

Three taskforce working groups developed the products:

- The Know Your Rights briefing pack and postcards were developed by a group chaired by Scott Hill, Interserve
- The Responsible Procurement Principles were developed by a group chaired by Guy Stallard, KPMG
- The Dignity and Respect poster campaign was developed by a group chaired by Sarah Bentley, The Building Futures Group

E: [email protected]
W: www.equalityhumanrights.com

22nd October 2015

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