A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found that some commercial cleaning companies do not pay their staff properly and do not provide them with holiday or sick leave.

The report –‘The Invisible Workforce: Employment Practices in the Cleaning Sector’ - identified examples of workers being sacked for complaining about not being paid in full and on time. Large numbers of cleaners also reported problems with under-payment or non-payment of wages.

Migrant workers’ lack of awareness of employment rights and poor language skills left them particularly vulnerable to mistreatment. Some of the migrant workers interviewed had not been given an employment contract and others did not have their contracts adequately explained to them. A few migrants said employers used language barriers to avoid paying them in full.

In some cases workers were told by their employer they were not entitled to paid holiday or sick leave, although they were permanent workers with consequent legal entitlement. Some felt pressurised into going into work when they were ill and others were expected to arrange their own cover.

Some cleaners said they had nowhere to take a break as clients did not provide for this and they were denied access to staff canteens. Others had to eat their meals in cupboards full of mops, buckets and cleaning chemicals.

Significant numbers of cleaners interviewed by the EHRC said they were not given any support when they complained of being harassed or bullied, and some said they were punished with extra work or worse duties for raising concerns. Others said they were afraid to report problems for fear of losing their jobs, and a few workers said they were threatened with dismissal when they told their employer they were pregnant.

The Commission made a number or recommendations in the report which include encouraging clients to commission cleaning services at living wage rates, as a matter of good practice. It also wants them to consider what action they can take to ensure cleaners are treated with the same dignity and respect as their own workforce and customers.

The Commission is now setting up a taskforce to look at issues raised by the report, and to identify examples of good practice and ways of taking these forward.
The evidence base for the report consisted of two research reports (one based on in-depth interviews with 93 cleaning operatives across Great Britain and the other based on six case studies); submissions from individuals and organisations; interviews; and focus groups.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This report shines a light on British businesses’ dirty secret – the appalling conditions faced by those who clean their offices and workplaces.

“Cleaners across Britain face poverty wages, job insecurity and a lack of respect from their employer. Many do not get their legal entitlements to holiday pay or the minimum wage, and tackling this injustice by speaking up and joining a union often results in further persecution.
“Agencies who employ cleaners – as well as the millions of businesses who use their services – have a duty of care to ensure cleaning staff are treated fairly. Living wage contracts are a great place to start.”

Neil Todd at Thompsons Solicitors said: “The report highlights the very severe problems faced by some of those who work in the cleaning sector where they are being exploited and denied basic rights that they are entitled to under existing legislation. It is particularly sad to read this report at a time when it is also so much more difficult for these individuals to pursue cases through a claim in an employment tribunal given the introduction of fees.

“Much more needs to be done to protect these individuals and to restore their dignity at work. If the much trumpeted reduction in the number of those now unemployed comes at the cost of people working in jobs where they are not afforded what they are legally entitled to then this is nothing for the current government to be proud of.”

To read the report, go to: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/our-work/key-projects/invisible-workforce-employment-practices-cleaning-sector