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The Living Wage: Contract cleaning industry in the spotlight

Tuesday, August 01, 2017 Comments (0)

The contract cleaning industry has been in the spotlight recently thanks to at least two online petitions run by the world's largest petition platform: In February 2015, it started two petitions about the living wage that highlighted the contract cleaning industry. John Lewis, the UK's leading retailer which has extremely loyal customers and an enviable reputation for combining quality with price, came under attack for not paying its contract cleaners the living wage. The Premier League faced the same attack for not paying its cleaning, catering and stewarding staff the living wage – a point made all the more dramatically when comparing support staff wages with the earnings of top players (the petitioners calculated that it would take those support staff 13 years to earn as much as some top players earn in a week).

As part of the petition about John Lewis, its sister company Waitrose was forced to change a statement in its stores stating that "everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose" to "everyone who works for Waitrose owns Waitrose" to draw a distinction between directly-paid high-earning partners and those who work for contractors on a low wage. It's not a ringing endorsement but it makes a point. And it shows the power of online petitions.

Contract cleaners are among the UK's lowest paid workers. There is very little respect for the work they do largely, in our view, because there is very little understanding about the difficulties of their job. To an office worker whose bin is not emptied, forgetting such a standard part of a routine job seems impossible to understand; irritation can be high. On the other hand, contract cleaning companies and facilities managers know that cleaning is an extremely physical, hard work task that is also mind-numbingly dull. When those physical demands are seen in the context of very low pay, it is even easier to understand why accidents occur.

Contract cleaning will never demand a high rate of pay but we know – from our own experience – that paying a higher rate for contract cleaners and other support service staff brings greater commitment to a job, greater commitment to the employer and client, and more attention while on the job, all of which lead to a higher standard of cleaning.

Indeed, according to the Living Wage Foundation, 80 per cent of employers who pay the living wage say it enhances quality of staff, loyalty, flexibility and service. They say absenteeism goes down, staff turnover reduces, recruitment costs are lower.

Our aim has always been to pay our contract cleaning and support services staff more than the minimum rate for the job - the minimum wage. Indeed, in years before the recession paying more than the minimum wage was the norm at Lakethorne. Now, regardless of whether we are in recession or boom years, the living wage is increasingly likely to become the minimum rate for contract cleaning and support services staff.

When seeking reductions in cleaning budgets, arguments will be led not by the rate we pay our staff but on the number of contract staff doing the work and/or the number of hours they do and/or the frequency of tasks to be done. There is always a consequence on service when reducing budgets.

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