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Waging war on workers’ rights

07 January 2014

Wages in the industry have come into the spotlight in recent months, and companies are being urged to clean up their act.

In October, the month that brought an increase in the National Minimum Wage to £6.31 an hour for adults, the Government launched a support service to help underpaid workers and announced it is cracking down on employers who fail to comply with the minimum rates.

Employers in the cleaning sector are at high risk of non-compliance due to failure to understand the rules around ‘fair rates’ of piece-work pay, according to new research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It also stated that cleaning companies must pay workers correctly or risk huge damage to their business through loss of reputation, low staff productivity and high employee turnover.

At the same time, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has launched a two-year examination into recruitment and employment practices in the industry and is calling for commercial cleaning firms and cleaners to come forward with evidence. The EHRC’s director of employment and economy, Karen Jochelson, said: "There is a high proportion of female, part-time, older and migrant workers [in the cleaning industry] who may be unaware of their employment rights such as the National Minimum Wage, adequate rest breaks or paid annual leave.”

Of course, most employers do pay their staff properly, and there is plenty of work going on in the cleaning and facilities management sector to raise standards above the minimum wage. The latest success story is that the City of London Corporation has agreed to supplement its cleaning contracts with providers Mitie, Sodexo and ISS to bring them in line with the London Living Wage of £8.80.

Supporting a living wage shouldn’t be a tough sell when evidence shows that better pay for cleaners benefits both employer and employee; the challenge is bringing stakeholders in the cleaning industry together to deliver the value and benefits of better pay and living conditions for cleaners. With the Government and EHRC stepping up support for workers, now may be a great opportunity to not only root out illegal practices among the few that give the cleaning industry a bad name but to raise awareness among the majority that a living wage equals good business.