Clean with a click

15th of May 2015
Clean with a click

ECJ German reporter Thomas Schulte-Marxloh looks at the rise of domestic cleaning businesses
offering services online.

The internet has already affected many businesses, not to mention our personal life; while new internet-based business models seem to rocket, traditional businesses like stores seem to fade away. Likewise, traditional consumers seem to vanish. Once online, the contemporary armchair consumer can conveniently shop worldwide and 24/7. Just a mouse click and the demanding consumer will be supplied and served.

Apart from online shops and online portals where you can buy almost any physical goods, an increasing number of platforms offer services eg, taxis, decorating or, last but not least, cleaning. These platforms have been objected to by existing businesses as services are often carried out by non-professionals or allegedly dummy businesses.

While the company Uber has raised some dust in the taxi business, contract cleaning professionals in Germany seem not to be scared or alarmed by the new platforms for cleaning services like Book a Tiger, Putzfee or Helpling.

The German contract cleaning association BIV believes the new service portals mainly address private households: “Professional contract cleaning is too complex.  (Online) providers mainly focus on the market of private households which is dominated by black labour”, Johannes Bungart, head of the BIV, explained in an Interview with Handelsblatt.

Sad but true, German private households are predominantly cleaned by ‘black workers’. Their employers want to save costs like social contributions or insurance fees and also fear bureaucratic hassle when lifting employment to a legal level - despite strict laws against ‘black labour’ and fines up to 5,000 euros which affect both employee and employer.

Erik Thomsen, head of the state-run Minijob-Centre, believes up to four million private households have employed a typical ‘mini jobber’ but only 250,000 of them were working in compliance with existing laws. It seems neither threatening punishment nor incentives like tax benefits of up to 510 euros per year for the employer have changed the minds of these workers and their employers.

The platforms for cleaning services promise to clear this legal twilight zone by delivering cleaning services without remorse for employers. According to Helpling the customer can simply order cleaning without having to care about insurance, social contributions and tax. Bungart does have another view: “Black labour is only substituted by pseudo-self-employment”. By working with pseudo-self-employed the on-line providers were avoiding having to pay minimum wages or collective labour agreements.

While the providers’ provision is 20 per cent of the wages the customer has to pay, the self-employed worker has to carry expenses like health insurance, pension, other insurances, cleaning supplies, transport, or time off. Bungart called this model ‘modern day labour’.

Stiftung Warentest, an independent consumer protection institute, found customers should read the small print. They might be surprised that, for instance, the place of jurisdiction can be a city in the US; the customer is asked to check the official documents of the workforce himself; qualification, reliability, and quality of work is not guaranteed, etc. Businesses might change, however the small print will stay.


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