Labour shortages hit hard

10th of August 2023 Article by Christian Bouzols
Labour shortages hit hard

The trend known as the ‘great resignation’ is hitting the cleaning sector, says Christian Bouzols in France.

For some months now, there has been much talk of a ‘great resignation’ of workers and, more recently, of a growing tendency for workers to just leave their job one day and not come back. These two phenomena – mass resignation and post relinquishment – are hitting the cleaning sector particularly hard.

As the unemployment rate in France has fallen with the ending of the pandemic, cleaning companies - and particularly those involved in industrial work - have been badly hurt by what they’re calling ‘la grande demission’, or mass resignation. To deal with this, the French cleaning federation (FEP) has published a ‘livre bleu describing the main problems they have to deal with. Foremost among them is the issue of recruitment.

The cleaning sector, which normally employs some 560,000 people, is currently faced with a shortage equivalent to a tenth of that number. Indeed, it requires about 53,000 new workers under permanent employment contracts in order to operate normally. And it fears being short of some 10,000 temporary cleaners to fill the gaps caused by staff taking holiday. The situation is such that some cleaning companies are refusing new work.

Nothing entirely new

This severe shortage of manpower had already made itself felt some three or four years ago, before the pandemic. At that time, the cleaning trades were already experiencing recruitment difficulties, but things have become worse since the Covid crisis. Philippe Jouanny, president of FEP, reported the cleaning sector is experiencing job resignations and relinquishments in numbers never seen before.

One explanation was that, due to the sharp rises in fuel, many cleaners considered it no longer paid to go to work, especially when most of them have two return journeys to make every day, one in the early morning and one late in the evening.

These resignations are felt at every company level, even management. Worst of all, the cleaning training centres have seen their intake fall sharply. At this time, they should be having 500 more trainees than they currently do. Low wages are obviously a major reason for this lack of interest, even though they have increased by six per cent this year and the transport allowance has also been raised.

But the working conditions of cleaners are also a major hindrance to attracting more people. Despite all the efforts by the federation to improve this situation, client companies are still insisting cleaning work is done outside office hours. Cleaners have therefore to come early in the morning and late in the evening, their working days thus being cut in two and made more costly in time and money owing to the two return journeys they have to make.

FEP is trying hard to persuade public purchasers of cleaning services to lead by example but has failed to get results so far, despite the commitments taken by the government in that area some months ago. Paradoxically, more and more cleaners should be deployed in the face of growing requirements for workplace hygiene, but with the shortage of labour that will have to be revised downwards.

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