The immigration question

31st of October 2014
The immigration question

ECJ’s UK correspondent on the immigration debate and how the cleaning industry is involved.

Here one of the main topics has been immigration. Some interesting views have been expressed by the movers and shakers in our industry. Let us be clear, controlled immigration is no bad thing but many of our troubles have arisen from the policy of allowing uncontrolled immigration.

It is small wonder that employers, while professing agreement with Government policies, generally seem reluctant to endorse any curb on immigrant workers. They are cheap to employ by our standards yet are delighted by the wages available here. Two problems have added to a difficult situation. Firstly the matter cannot be taken into the public forum without the cry of “racism!” which it surely is not. Secondly the blurring of the two distinct types of immigrant.

The first are refugees fleeing war and persecution, where Britain and several other countries have an excellent reputation for their reception. The second the economic  migrants who have few skills but are weary of little food and having to carry water miles to drink and no prospect of improvement. The issue is made more complex and difficult to manage by European Union citizens  being able to come and go at will.

Ingrained attitudes

What, you ask, has this to do with cleaning? The skilled immigrant with a job to come to and funds for housing, etc, is no problem. The cleaning contractors are happy to take on workers who will work hard and do not complain about their pay.

As an industry we are very much the first port of call. At one time it was hotel and restaurant washing-up that provided some sort of job. The illegal immigrant was unfortunately widely used by unscrupulous cleaning companies as well as some who ought to have known better.

The burning question remains. Why don’t the British unemployed or otherwise  take these jobs?   
The media talks glibly of “jobs the British won’t do” as if this was an accepted fact of life. The answer is much simpler but deeply ingrained. It is class. You can call a cleaner anything you like - ‘cleaning operative’ or even ‘environment specialist’ but to the great British public he or she is a cleaner. It is going to take a revolution in all areas and at all levels to change this.

Into our hands recently fell a report The Invisible Work Force: Employment Practices in the Cleaning Sector -  the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In my opinion it contains few meaningful figures, no information as to who took part and many of its conclusions appeared to be based on little more than speculation. It points out the industry’s failings but has virtually no praise for the fine job being done 24 hours a day, seven days a week by cleaning companies and their employees.

Certainly it does nothing for the workers and much to strengthen the negative public image.


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