Solutions to combat poverty risk

18th of April 2024 Article by John Griep
Solutions to combat poverty risk

Low-skilled workers in the Dutch cleaning sector are at a higher risk of poverty, explains VSR’s John Griep.

A 2021 report by the Social Economic Council (SER) shows low-skilled workers in the Dutch cleaning sector are at greater risk of poverty. The issue occurs in all sectors with relatively more minimum wages, temporary workers and short working weeks.

All properties that are characteristic of the Dutch cleaning sector. The increased risk of poverty is a difficult issue for which no single factor can be blamed. Various parties contribute to the problem: cleaning companies, customers, but also the risk group (cleaners) themselves. At VSR we offer solutions to reduce the risk of poverty.

The problem is partly caused by cleaning companies. In practice, they are very reluctant to offer contracts which include fixed working hours. Not only because of risk reduction, sometimes those hours are simply not available. The explanation for this is simple: a lot of cleaning work takes place in the evening outside office hours during fixed time slots. Logical from the client’s perspective, but this is a significant limitation for the cleaners. Spreading working hours is often impossible for the client and as a cleaner you can only be in one place at a time.

Cleaners therefore feel forced to work for multiple employers in order to work more hours. They often do not realise this increases the risk of stress and additional tax burden. The extra tax burden in particular leads to problems. Often not enough tax is paid because the payroll tax credit is applied by multiple employers.

Legally, an employee may only receive payroll tax credit from one employer in the Netherlands. And that leads to additional taxes from the tax authorities for the employee. A big setback for cleaners who are barely making ends meet.

Other factors that increase the risk of poverty lie with the cleaners themselves. They are often poorly educated, face a language barrier and have limited digital knowledge. All obstacles that make it harder for them to negotiate with employers. It also limits communication with government agencies - to apply for support or subsidies. So cleaners are often poorly informed about the income support they are eligible for.

At VSR we started looking for solutions. We mainly advocate preventive measures. This includes providing information to cleaners about budget management and available schemes. Cleaning companies could play an active role in this.

For example, from January 1 2024, the annual government subsidy for employers ‘Tel mee met Taal’ has been available. As an employer, you thus invest in basic skills (language, arithmetic or digital skills) in the workplace.

That being said, it is not the case no initiative is taken at all by cleaning companies. There is just a considerable gap between what large and small employers can do. The major players often have extensive HR support and enough resources to offer support services. At small cleaning companies we see in practice it is difficult to offer the same.

But a significant investment is not always necessary to make a positive contribution as an employer. With extra involvement you can more easily identify problem cases and quickly see what you can do for someone. You can also discuss the distribution of hours with clients. If possible, you can offer contracts with more fixed hours.

Working in the cleaning sector is tough, but honest work. And cleaners should at least be able to make a living from it.

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