Workforce challenges in Russia's cleaning sector

20th of September 2013
Workforce challenges in Russia's cleaning sector

ECJ’s reporter in Russia, Oleg Popov of Cristanval, reports on new anti-discrimination laws.

In the past, one might see the following advertisement: “Seeking a Russian cleaning woman under 45 years old.” Now one can only write: “Seeking a cleaning woman.”  Due to such changes in legislation, the stream of acceptable personnel applications has increased dramatically.

Cleaning companies hold interviews with every applicant but select people who meet the clients’ demands. In some cases there are requests regarding age, as well as outward appearance.

In advertisements, professional skills may be listed which automatically eliminate a number of applicants. For example, some clients request staff with a knowledge of the English language. This means that for this particular opening, the majority of applicants will be young people. Or in the job description for a managerial position, there may be listed preferences such as higher education or computer skills.  These skills themselves immediately eliminate many from a particular age group.

Among service personnel, the relationship between the number of men and women in cleaning companies is roughly 50/50.  Among cleaning staff, there are both men and women.  Likewise, for some time now, women have been operating floor cleaning equipment and working as yard workers.  However there are limitations simply due to the nature of the work. As a rule women do not work as loaders and men do not want to clean toilets.

Companies are now prepared to hire men as chambermaids.  And although this a common practice in countries in the East, it is difficult to imagine men in Russia cleaning hotel rooms.
In our experience men are worse at cleaning, they do not see dirt as easily, and they are less careful. However there are exceptions, and those men will remain in the cleaning field for a long time. For many men the word ‘cleaning’ is itself frightening.

There is a stereotype that cleaning is not men’s work, but for women. If among service personnel there are many men, of those in managerial positions and higher, only five per cent work in cleaning. No change in legislation will have a marked impact on the situation.

Age restrictions in our sphere are objective. Working as a cleaning person after 60 years of age is difficult physically. Our staff includes experienced managers, some of them receiving pensions.

They are qualified specialists, and no one would even consider sending them to retirement while they are active and able to fulfil their obligations. The greatest problem in Russian cleaning, is staff shortages, not stricter legislation. Cleaning companies are improving working conditions: bringing in workers from the provinces, renting dormitories, organising board and transportation to and from work.

Every effort is being made to attract workers because from countries that once provided staff (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan), trains are arriving empty. As the economies of these countries improve, fewer are coming to Russia in search of work. In Russia we are feeling sharply the lack of not only young workers, but workers of any age. The demographic dip of the 1990s is now being keenly felt. Youth are now pursuing the best professions and the forecast is that the situation will continue to worsen. Then it will become a question of attracting staff from overseas.


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