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EHRC looking for evidence of discrimination & exploitation in the cleaning industry

07 November 2013

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is calling for evidence from commercial cleaning firms and cleaners as part of an in-depth examination into recruitment and employment practices in the industry.

The two-year project will aim to raise awareness of human rights and equality responsibilities among businesses in the sector and identify practical and cost effective solutions to any problems uncovered.

It builds on the Commission’s earlier inquiry into the meat and poultry processing sector. This revealed widespread mistreatment and exploitation of migrant workers and agency staff. The Commission worked with supermarkets, government, regulators and unions to introduce improvements.

The Commission is keen to explore how the rights of workers to protection from discrimination and their rights to be treated with dignity and respect are promoted in different sectors. It has decided to do this by looking at cleaning, another important industrial sector.

The cleaning industry employs more than 400,000 people and has an annual turnover of £7.2 billion. Sixty per cent of staff are female, 37 per cent migrant workers, 59 per cent part-time and 22 per cent aged over 54. Reports and case studies from other organisations combined with Employment Tribunal data also suggests the industry needs help to address wider problems relating to pregnant workers, concerns about racial and religious discrimination, and even bonded (forced) labour.

The Commission will focus on standardised cleaning in the office, health, retail, transport and leisure sectors in an attempt to gain a balanced picture of the sector, and understand challenges facing workers and businesses alike. It will also look at the impact of contracting out services.

A summary of the findings will be published in spring 2014 and a taskforce of key stakeholders will be formed to consider practical responses to the recommendations.

The call for evidence opens on Thursday 7th November and runs until Tuesday 17th December 2013. Response forms for employers and cleaners are available on the Commission’s website: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/key-projects/cleaning/ and should take around 15 minutes to complete.

Commission director of employment and economy, Karen Jochelson, said: "We are particularly interested in the cleaning sector because of the composition of the workforce. There is a high proportion of female, part-time, older and migrant workers, who may be unaware of their employment rights such the national minimum wage, adequate rest breaks or paid annual leave.

"Mindful of reducing the burden on business, we are seeking to gather evidence without using our enforcement powers, although we will consider doing so should we be unable to obtain enough information otherwise.”