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Cleaning quality key to survival in Finland26th of October 2011
The cleaning sector has received some bad press in Finland recently, reports Tom Crockford for ECJ.
Recent headlines in Finland’s national press have not cast the local cleaning industry in a particularly good light. Stories of contractors employing foreigners working for low wages and not paying taxes, and of cleaning company employees stealing from homes being cleaned, have received far more publicity than they perhaps warrant. Almost certainly, such cases are exceptions to the general rule in a country where professionalism is emphasised.
Unfortunately, this negative publicity comes at a time when the sector is already struggling to adjust to the economic downturn, and to the Finnish government’s decision to lower the tax deduction for home cleaning services. I discussed these matters with Tarja Valkosalo, executive director of the Finnish Association of Cleaning Technology.
”We were surprised by those headlines as it was the first we had heard of such allegations,” Valkosalo explains. She thinks the only effective way to deal with unethical or illegal practices is to place a heavy emphasis on responsibility, and on providing quality services to the customer.
The Finnish association offers a 'Clean Card' certificate to firms able to show they comply with proper business practices and are able to provide a quality service. The Clean Card committee takes malpractice accusations very seriously, and recommends cleaning contract agreements are worded in such a way that improper procedures are avoided.
The upcoming Cleaning Service 2011 event being held in Helsinki will feature a seminar titled 'What are the responsibilities involved when purchasing cleaning services?'
It will be chaired by Kirsti Liljeroos, a member of the Clean Card committee. According to Tarja Valkosalo, this is part of the ongoing ’buyer beware’ campaign aimed at ensuring purchasers of cleaning services are diligent in demanding good quality and proper practices. "The emphasis, especially for public sector purchasers, has to move away from merely choosing the cheapest offer. The value of good quality has to be appreciated, and we see quality as being the key to survival," she says.
The change in the tax laws the government has proposed that lowers the deductible amount for home cleaning services is not likely to have a major impact. There have been fears raised that it will encourage 'moonlighting' operators offering cheaper rates and not declaring the income, but this is not considered as being a matter of serious concern. Home cleaning is mostly carried out by very small companies and most of them already have more business than they can manage.
As for the future, the trend seems to be that the public sector, which today represents 40 to 50 per cent of professional cleaning activities, will increasingly outsource its cleaning to private contractors. This view is supported by a survey conducted by the association in August when public authority cleaning executives indicated they will do less and less cleaning in-house, and instead purchase more cleaning operations from the private sector.
All of which makes it ever more important that such purchasers know exactly what they are buying. As Tarja Valkosalo points out: "The only truly effective way to ensure contractors operate ethically and legally is for the buyers of their services to have a ’zero tolerance’ approach. We emphasise quality, and that means quality in all areas of the business, because that is the best guarantee for success."