Portugal's cleaning sector growth continues

10th of June 2024
Portugal's cleaning sector growth continues

In this exclusive report for ECJ Fernando Sabino and Daniela Rocha at the Portuguese contract cleaning association APFS tell us about the key trends and statistics. The cleaning sector in Portugal grew by 50 per cent between 2018 and 2022, and there are now 7805 businesses operating.

Portugal is the host country for the 2024 European Cleaning & Hygiene Awards gala dinner. It will take place in Lisbon on October 3.

THE PROFESSIONAL CLEANING sector in Portugal has grown very significantly in recent years. Between 2018 and 2022 the turnover growth rate was 50 per cent, that is to say an average growth rate of 10 per cent per year. Even in 2020 (the year of the pandemic) there was 3.3 per cent growth.

The trend of clients to outsource cleaning services, and the increase in the number of both healthcare facilities and office areas, are the principal reasons for the continual growth in turnover in the professional cleaning sector.

The number of companies has also grown, from 4410 companies in 2018 to 7805 in 2022, that is to say an increase of 77 per cent. Approximately half of the companies have just a single worker. The 10 largest companies account for around 50 per cent of the market.

The number of jobs has also grown between 2018 and 2022, albeit at a much slower rate of approximately eight per cent.

The labour force employed in professional cleaning in Portugal is essentially female: 91 per cent. Only nine per cent are male. Eighty per cent of the workforce are Portuguese workers; 19 per cent are from abroad from outside the EU and only one per cent are from the EU.

Immigrant workers account for 20 per cent of the total, meaning that without immigration the staff recruitment problem, which is already serious, would be significantly worse. Immigration is essential to the functioning of the cleaning sector.

Cleaning work is essentially organised on the basis of open-ended employment contracts. The reason for this is that the Collective Labour Agreement contains a clause requiring that whenever a company loses a services provision contract, the company replacing it must keep the workers assigned to that contract on under the same conditions as they already enjoyed. In other words, the worker only changes the name of their employer.

Part-time dominates

The organisation of working time is also characterised predominantly by part time workers: 68 per cent. Full-time workers account for 32 per cent.

The public procurement market in Portugal accounts for 34 per cent of the total, a very significant percentage.

The sectors of activity representing the highest percentages are:

• Health, 25 per cent,

• Offices and administrative services, 22 per cent,

• Industrial, 11 per cent,

• Shopping centres, 10 per cent,

• Transport, 8 per cent.

Geographically, 50 per cent of activity is in the centre of the country (Leiria/Setúbal), 26 per cent in the north (Valença/Coimbra), 17 per cent in the south (Évora/Algarve), and seven per cent on the islands.

Challenges in the sector

The sector’s principal challenges are:

• Digitisation

• Sustainability

• Labour shortages

• Unfair competition

• The service being valued by clients.


The use of robotics in Portugal is already a reality with an increasing trend, particularly in large premises such as hospitals, shopping centres, hypermarkets, etc. There is also development in process digitisation, thus lessening the administrative burden of hard copy data-processing when taking into account the expense of services for thousands of locations.


Sustainability programmes are also underway, particularly in the use of new products and methodologies. The great challenge will be to reorganise working times such that cleaning services are carried out during the day with the consequent improvements in terms of energy efficiency and social responsibility - eliminating night work - and permitting cleaning staff to work hours that are more compatible with family life.

Labour shortages

Staff recruitment has been difficult due to the shortage of labour. In recent years there has been a very sharp rise in cleaning staff pay, contributing to the increased attractiveness of the sector in employment terms. In addition to the increase in staff wages, companies have been adopting a management style that is closer to, and takes more interest in, their personnel’s personal needs and challenges.

Training is also a very relevant factor in the opinion of workers, and consequently an important motivational factor. Yet despite all the efforts made, companies still find it very difficult to retain their workers. Worker turnover rate is high, representing a high cost for companies.

Unfair competition

In Portugal, there is a problem of unfair competition in the sector, fundamentally fuelled by the public sector procurement market. The unprofessional and incompetent manner in which public sector tenders are issued, and the decision-making criteria employed, encourage less scrupulous companies to employ poor management practices - failing to fulfil their legal obligations - in order to tender more competitive bids.

The APFS (Portuguese Facility-Services Association), the sole representative of the sector in Portugal, has been alerting the official bodies responsible for the public procurement process to the serious problems in this market, but to no avail.

The challenge is to alter the procurement process which, given that this problem does not solely exist in Portugal, is being taken forward at a European level, with the full commitment of the APFS, in an attempt to change the Public Procurement Directive.

In an attempt to combat this reality the APFS has created an Employment Compliance certificate to distinguish those companies which comply with their employment obligations. This will provide clients with important information at the time of taking a decision in respect of which company to award contracts to.

In parallel, the Industrial Cleaning Sector Observatory (OSLI) was created, consisting of the APFS and all the sector’s unions. This organisation has the following objectives:

• To promote the execution of studies on the economic and social situation of the sector with a view to identifying and analysing the principal trends, either to be used by the members for their own purposes or to be submitted to the Government in the form of recommendations

• To analyse the development of labour relations in the sector and to submit proposals or recommendations

• To analyse practices employed and to encourage the reporting of irregularities, either to the public administration and the competent authorities, or to those companies and organisations where they occur, or to society in general.

A further challenge facing companies is that of inducing clients to value the services provided. During the pandemic the sector managed to draw attention to the importance of this activity in public health terms. Clients showed greater willingness to pay a fair price.

Being valued by clients

The trend now, however, is that this reality is fading as a result of the need to reduce costs. The fact that the service is carried out either before or after hours does not help in the role of cleaning staff being valued. In most cases, clients do not even know the individuals who undertake the service.

Hence the importance of services being carried out during the day when people are in their workplaces and on a position to observe and appreciate the service of cleaning. With this objective, companies would need to change the way they organise their working hours and, to do this, clients must have an understanding of the benefits that daytime cleaning offers them in order to agree to such change.

This is undeniably a challenge for cleaning service provider companies and their clients which, if overcome, will result in benefits for everyone: clients, cleaning workers and service provider companies.


In the coming years the professional cleaning sector will have opportunities to continue to grow, given the anticipated investment in the health and office sectors.

It will also benefit from technological developments which will make it possible to modernise the operation and management of the service. Technological advances will also permit a closer and more productive relationship with clients, enabling a more appropriate response to each client’s specific needs.

The relationship between the APFS and all the sector’s unions is very good. This is the only way to achieve a single Collective Labour Agreement signed up to all of the sector’s representative associations, viz. those of companies and all the unions.

Social peace has been and will continue to be a positive factor contributing significantly to the development of the sector.

For more information contact: apfs.pt

• For more details about the European Cleaning & Hygiene Awards dinner, visit www.echawards.com


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