FM firms must foster a culture of respect for cleaning staff alongside pushing for living wages and benefits to improve their working lives, according to those working in the industry.
The response comes after research released by Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) revealed last week that some employers in the commercial cleaning industry are failing to meet their responsibilities to their staff on pay, holiday or sick leave or dealing with their concerns.
Many cleaners feel that their employer, client firms and the public do not treat them with the dignity and respect everyone should expect.
The non-domestic cleaning workforce is largely made up of women, migrants and older workers. Although the commission found many examples of good practice in employment and working conditions, many cleaners spoke of being “invisible”, the “lowest of the low”, being spoken to rudely and treated badly compared with other employees.
Andrew Hulbert, managing director of Pareto Facilities Management, told FM World: “Unfortunately, I am not surprised at these findings whatsoever having worked closely with several cleaning teams over the last few years. However, I am nonetheless still deeply disappointed that the problem is as wide-scale as reported. We constantly come across these types of practices when implementing new contracts and have to work to drive these issues out.
“From my perspective, it is not just a question of pay but more an issue of respect for the individuals and their profession. Yes, we must continue to push for all cleaning staff to be paid a living wage, but more needs to be done in terms of recognising the contribution of the cleaning industry and each individual staff member –remember they are human beings too. Humans with ambitions, goals, trials and tribulations just like the rest of society. Unfortunately, in the corporate world this sometimes got lost.”
Hulbert said that cleaning is a technical profession in itself but “is not afforded the respect of other industries such as M&E”.
He added: “When issues occur, it is easy for people with no experience in the sector to judge harshly. Few people take the time to actually get to know the staff, their lifestyles, how important these roles are to them and just why they work so hard. Few people understand the harsh practices, long hours and lack of support these staff receive as highlighted in this report. Just by paying them more money does not make the issue go away. The industry needs to rethink its approach and challenge those clients rigorously who impose a culture of ‘just sack them and get another one’. That is our duty in FM and this report continues to highlight that fact.”
Carl Manning, mechanical engineer at CM Sustainable Solutions at Costain, said: “If your building isn’t clean then the consequences are yours to deal with, so why wouldn’t you want to practice a better approach?”
Doug Cooke, CEO at Principle Cleaning Services, also said: “The EHRC collected evidence from 424 workers, nine cleaning firms, three trade unions and two other organisations. In an industry that employs up to one million, has approximately 7,000 cleaning firms, plus numerous local authorities the evidence is hardly a true reflection of the cleaning sector… However, bad practice must be exposed and improvements to the terms, conditions and wages of cleaning staff is always welcome.”
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