UK commission says cleaning firms are failing to protect cleaners' rights

26th of August 2014
UK commission says cleaning firms are failing to protect cleaners' rights

According to a study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in the UK, some employers in the professional cleaning industry are failing to meet their responsibilities to their staff in relation to pay, holiday or sick leave and dealing with their concerns.

The study also says manycleaners feel that their employer, client firms and the public do not treat them with the dignity and respect everyone should expect.

While the EHRC 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 to other employees.

"Significant numbers" of cleaners said they received no support when they complained of being harassed or bullied, and some said they were punished with extra work or worse duties for raising concerns. Others said they were afraid to report problems for fear of losing their jobs, and a few workers said they were threatened with dismissal when they told their employer they were pregnant.

Problems with under-payment or non-payment of wages were also mentioned by cleaners, and there were instances of workers being sacked for complaining about not being paid in full and on time.

The sector has seen significant outsourcing since the 1970s and theCommission found that longer contracts created a more positive relationship between the client and the cleaning firm, gave greater job stability to cleaners and encouraged investment in workforce development.

Migrant workers' lack of awareness of employment rights and poor language skills left them particularly vulnerable to mistreatment. Some of the migrant workers interviewed had not been given an employment contract; others did not have their contracts adequately explained to them. A few migrants said employers used language barriers to avoid paying them in full.

In some cases, the study says, workers were told by their employer they were not entitled to paid holiday or sick leave, although they were permanent workers with legal entitlements. Some felt pressurised into going into work when they were ill and others were expected to arrange their own cover.

Some cleaners said they had nowhere to take a break as some clients did not provide for this and they were denied access to staff canteens, and some workers had to eat their meals in cupboards full of mops, buckets and cleaning chemicals.

The Commission, which promotes and enforces the laws that protect everyone's right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, makes a number or recommendations.

These include encouraging clients to commission cleaning services at living wage rates, as a matter of good practice. It also wants them to consider what action they can take to ensure cleaners are treated with the same dignity and respect as their own workforce and customers.

The Commission is now setting up a taskforce, chaired by EHRC deputy chair Caroline Waters, to look at issues raised by the report, identify examples of good practice and ways of taking these forward.

She commented: ""I am looking forward to working with the cleaning firms, union representatives, clients, trade bodies and government organisations that make up this yearlong taskforce.

"Together I believe we will identify key actions to improve practices across the sector and ensure that everyone understands their role in ensuring workers are treated with dignity and respect."


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