EFCI news - challenges and opportunities in the post-Covid world

27th of May 2021
EFCI news - challenges and opportunities in the post-Covid world

Just over a year after the world first faced the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, EFCI president Juan Díez de los Ríos looks back at the lessons learned by the professional cleaning sector during these most challenging of times. He also looks ahead to possible future opportunities.

A bit more than a year after the beginning of this unprecedented crisis, I feel it is a good moment to look back and take stock of the lessons learned during this challenging time. And this is necessary to have an in-depth reflection for the challenges that we face for the upcoming months and years, which combine the much-awaited recovery with the new post-pandemic world (of work, of travel, of business…) and the impact of the twin (green and digital) transitions.

Pandemic’s impact

The cleaning sector has received unprecedented recognition during this pandemic. Our frontline agents have demonstrated their commitment to our society’s wellbeing by providing our essential services with determination.  Nevertheless, the sector has been directly hit by the negative economic impact of the containment measures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is still proving challenging to provide exact data to measure it at national and EU level.

Lockdowns were relaxed and repeated at different rhythms in our different countries and with different intensity in each economic sector. Consequently, cleaning and facility services companies have been very differently impacted. While some have been able to adapt their business and activities to new needs, or could focus their activity towards less-affected sectors, others have lost up to 50 per cent or more of their activities.

Indeed, in some member states, cleaning companies have lost up to 50 per cent of their activities (and turnover) due to the temporary closure of offices, leisure and educational facilities which represent nearly 54 per cent of the sector’s market share.

While the number of companies being unable to continue in business is still uncertain, cleaning companies are facing great difficulties in resuming business and in sustaining additional material and organisational costs (which are reaching an average of over five per cent, including those generated by the acquisition of personal protective equipment and products (PPE). Further, cleaning companies have been hit by unfair contracting practices: from unilateral cancellations to extended delays in payments.

The mid-term and near future of our sector will be determined by the changes that will impact the way in which many of us work. Office cleaning represents 45 per cent of the market and therefore, the impact of the reduction of working spaces will certainly be hard on our companies, who are already changing the way they work and offer their services.

The heavy increase in hygiene demand/attention by end users will ensure, nevertheless, that our essential services will continue to be in demand. This will also have a positive impact on daytime cleaning and the search for innovative ways of providing our services.

While cleaning agents and the value of the services we provide have been valued as never before, the expected economic crisis and the uncertainty we are facing is making it difficult to say that the fight for quality-based selection of cleaning services will finally take the place it deserves.

Green and digital

The pandemic has also determined a transformation in the cleaning sector in both operations and technology. First, to reduce the risk of contagion, the urgency of associating cleaning with sanitation has been promoted, leading to an increase in disinfection services. Second, the importance of trained professionals and the use of appropriate techniques and products was emphasised to maintain and improve the level of hygiene and cleanliness.

Continuing on this path, in the future the focus will be on investing in new technologies, digitisation and the related training of workers. Upskilling and reskilling of our workforce is of key importance also in the business services sectors.

In the private employment services industry, for example, there are various channels for supporting workers in adapting to change, including skills intelligence and profiling, upskilling via training programmes at company level or through bipartite funds. The EFCI is at work to provide the sector with the right tools to successfully navigate both transitions, through the EU-funded SK-Clean project and by putting special attention to sustainability issues which will soon transform into a Circular Economy guide for the sector.

Sustainability goals

Moving towards a greener and digital future, the EFCI recently announced its commitment to the United Nations SDGs in the areas of health, hygiene, sanitation, maintenance of urban spaces, quality employment and equal opportunities. The EFCI believes the European cleaning and facility services sector can act as a key partner towards a more sustainable Europe through a transformational recovery from the pandemic. The SDGs will be a reference for EFCI and its members activities to support the sector in the green and digital transitions. This commitment has even greater relevance in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Challenging agenda

In 2017, the European Institutions proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar sets out 20 key principles which aim to achieve a strong social Europe that is fair, inclusive and full of opportunities in the 21st century. With the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, the Commission has set out concrete initiatives to build fairer and more well-functioning labour markets as well as good welfare systems for the benefit of all Europeans.

In this context, the European Commission is putting forward legislative proposals which will bring both challenges and opportunities for our sector. From a proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages to a decided focus on skills and training, the EFCI is ensuring the needs of our sector are taken into account by policymakers.

Within this ambitious policy objective, we work with the certainty the cleaning and facility services sector is and will continue to be a vector for integration into the labour market. Indeed, the sector is key, among others, for the integration of young people into the labour market; the fight against undeclared work; the creation of jobs for workers with transferable skills, coming from other sectors hard hit by the pandemic; providing training in fundamental sector-related skills, essential also for basic re and up-skilling; and of course, the creation of flexible jobs.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited