Cleaners should feel proud of their work

by Guy Stallard

Published: 16 Jun 2015

In 2014, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its Invisible Workforce report into practices within the cleaning sector. The cleaning industry employs large numbers of female, ethnic minority and migrant workers, some of whom are in vulnerable situations. In addition, employees in the cleaning industry often work unsocial hours, feel poorly treated by their clients and low pay is prevalent across the sector.

The report made a number of recommendations and as a result three working groups were established as part of a ‘cleaning taskforce’ to help initiate positive change in the industry.

When I was invited by the Commission to chair the procurement working group within the cleaning taskforce, I took it as a hugely positive sign that increasing numbers of employers and cleaning services buyers were taking seriously the experiences of workers in the commercial cleaning sector. Our aim within the working group is that procurement practices address the factors which make the experiences and working conditions of employees in the cleaning sector unsatisfactory and arguably unsustainable. I am delighted that BIFM, BSA, CIPS, TUC, British Hospitality Association and Building Futures Group are providing their knowledge and experience on the working group along with representatives from client and supplier organisations.

An increasing number of organisations which buy cleaning services from the cleaning service providers are realising the importance of responsible procurement. These organisations recognise that although they outsource these services, they want to partner with suppliers who treat their staff with dignity, ensure the correct employment obligations and workers’ rights are met, and provide fair pay. Suppliers too, wish to show that they are doing the right thing and those who lead from the front want to demonstrate that the sense of responsibility in the sector has changed and there are now some great examples of good practice across the industry. Suppliers want cleaners to be proud of what they deliver and feel respected by the colleagues with whom they work.

My experience of chairing the procurement working group has been really positive. Undeniably, getting to a consensus position that is practical and pragmatic for businesses and effects real positive change for employees, is hard, yet worthwhile work for all involved. All members participate with the best intentions of raising the bar and improving the experience of the cleaning workers.

When our procurement guidance is published in the autumn I am confident it will be embraced by clients, suppliers and unions and will encourage investment in workforce development, better working conditions and provide a framework for greater job stability for workers in the cleaning industry.