Issues with pay, dangerous working conditions and sexual harassment are ‘endemic’ in the cleaning sector, and organisations – especially client companies – should use their position of power to intervene where they believe workers are being poorly treated, according to a report by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX).
The working paper, based on participatory research carried out with cleaners in the UK, highlights key workplace issues in the cleaning sector, and the risk and resilience factors that impact cleaners’ vulnerability to labour abuse and exploitation. It finds that cleaning is a high-risk sector for labour abuse and exploitation, with workers experiencing frequent issues with pay, inability to take time off when ill, and dangerous working conditions, including high levels of sexual harassment – a key form of gender-based violence.
It also identifies systemic and structural issues that create risk of labour exploitation, including the fissured nature of the sector, the low presence of union representation, barriers affecting marginalised workers, and the impact of limited labour market enforcement, among others.
Sixty-one per cent of cleaners polled by FLEX experienced issues with pay, including not being paid for all hours worked (31%); not being paid at all (15%); not receiving holiday pay (12%); being paid a lower rate than initially promised (10%) and being paid less than the minimum wage (6%).
“Dangerous” working conditions were experienced by 60% of cleaning staff, including 38% who were asked to work without proper equipment and 34% not provided with personal protective gear.
One third experienced sexual harassment, including sexualised comments (15%); pressure to go on dates (12%); unwelcome sexual advances (9%); and groping and unwanted touching (9%).
“The cleaning workforce is an invisible yet essential security net on which we, as a society, rely on…Yet, as the limited number of studies available on this sector show, labour abuse is widespread and endemic to the sector,” the report says.
“While it is clear that much needs to be done – and urgently – to improve the situation of workers in cleaning, it is also crucial that the solutions taken forward are informed by those most affected by them, i.e. cleaners themselves.
“Workers have a wealth of knowledge and intelligence about the factors contributing to and driving labour exploitation in the cleaning sector, and we hope that by bringing this knowledge to the attention of policy makers we will start to see meaningful change on the ground.”
“IF I COULD CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT
MY WORK…” PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH WITH CLEANERS IN THE UK.
Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) is a research and policy organisation working towards an end to labour exploitation. FLEX seeks to achieve this vision through the prevention of labour abuses, protection of the rights of those affected or at risk of exploitation and by promoting best practice responses to labour exploitation through research and evidence-based advocacy.