The British Cleaning Council and members write monthly columns for both Cleaning and Maintenance and Tomorrow’s Cleaning magazines. You can read recent columns below.
Time for the Government to listen to our industry
By British Cleaning Council Chairman Jim Melvin (This article was first published in Tomorrow’s Cleaning in February)
As numbers of people being infected with Covid-19 soared at the beginning of the year, the level of concern and frustration felt by many in our industry also rose.
Everyone at the British Cleaning Council is frankly becoming increasingly frustrated that the Government does not truly listen to our industry.
It was exactly two years ago this month that we told how very worried and concerned we were about the potentially huge negative impact on the cleaning and hygiene industry of Government proposals for the immigration system.
The industry has always relied on workers of all nationalities and UK nationals are historically harder to recruit.
So it was obvious that plans to bracket sector workers in the low skilled category for which visas would be restricted would cause serious labour shortages in the cleaning sector.
As anyone who works in the industry knows, that was both abhorrent and incorrect as sector personnel are skilled in their own right. The last two years have proven that unequivocally.
Typically and sadly, the Government didn’t listen to our concerns and the immigration rules brought in early last year have combined with Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic to create the severe shortages the industry is now suffering from.
We’ve spent the past few months trying to alert the Government from a partnership perspective about the issue and asking for assistance.
It’s surely not too difficult to understand that such major recruitment problems, coming at a time when a new variant has sent Covid infection rates soaring, and in the middle of winter could lead to buildings not being cleaned hygienically and potentially put the health of people at risk.
Industry staff are the first line of defence in keeping people safe and healthy and we fear that this role could be impaired because we don’t have enough staff to do the job thus slowing the recovery from the pandemic.
Once again, the Government is not listening to our genuine fears. It dismisses our industry as employing an unskilled workforce of cheap labour from abroad and says that changing the immigration policy would not be politically expedient.
This couldn’t be further from the truth and shows either a lack of knowledge or a failure to grasp reality.
Industry employers pay at least the National Minimum Wage with many paying more. The rate has been set by the Government so how can it be classified as cheap labour? Additionally, more and more employers are Real Living Wage employers, a fact which also seems to have passed the Government by.
It is infuriating that the Government is playing politics with these important issues instead of doing what our industry and the country needs by recognising the sector’s vital role in protecting people’s health, along with our important role protecting the environment.
One area where we have made more progress is in our drive to introduce a universal training and apprenticeships programme for the sector, which the Trailblazer group has now been given the go-ahead to develop our proposals. But even there, it is the industry’s third attempt at setting up an apprenticeship.
Through initiatives such as the Chartered Practitioners register, recently launched by the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners (WCEC), the Cleaning and Support Services Association’s (CSSA) Clean Start campaign and the Trailblazer’s apprenticeships bid, we are striving to create a formal career development ladder which will support staff to progress throughout their working life, helping make the sector more attractive to new entrants.
Our industry is changing and modernising. Now we need the Government to update its ideas about our sector as well.
As part of a collective process, we are working with member associations and companies to discuss the next steps. We intend to redouble our efforts to lobby Government and make it very clear that we fully intend to be heard.
Staff absences cause cleaning sector crisis
By Delia Cannings, Deputy Chair of the British Cleaning Council. (This article was first published in Cleaning and Maintenance in February)
The Omicron strain of Covid-19 has caused a huge amount of anxiety and stress across the nation and has also had a huge impact in the cleaning and hygiene industry itself.
We’ve been forced to cope with a workforce which is limited due to the sheer number of staff absences. This has had a worrying impact with fractures appearing from all sides.
Parts of the industry are at breaking point, staff are on their knees exhausted and the subsequent fatigue being experienced lends itself to accidents.
Why are so many staff absent? Many who have been providing frontline services for nearly two years have succumbed to the virus, some are in self-isolation or shielding and others are caring for children and family members who are affected.
The vast majority are absent simply because they are burnt out. They have fought the battle for so long and now find themselves covering for absent colleagues in environments where workloads have increased due, essentially, to the increase in cleaning frequencies required to ensure containment of the virus.
In addition to this, when it is time to return to work some colleagues are understandably reluctant because of the risks, as well as being undervalued by the Government.
As a result, the sector is haemorrhaging experienced cleaning operatives who have lost faith and prefer to move to what they perceive as greener pastures, such as HGV driving.
This leaves existing staff to take on extra duties and managers to roll up their sleeves to help, yet they are still unable to fill the gaps as well as manage and audit the cleaning service effectively. It is a fact that, if this carries on, risks will increase, standards will fall and audits will fail.
We are starting to feel the ramifications across the healthcare, hospitality, contract cleaning and transport sectors in particular, with shortcuts, slip ups and accidents
What can we do if we can’t get the staff? We are not miracle workers; we simply cannot keep this pace up. The health and wellbeing of our workforce is at stake here and the risk to the public is high.
The labour market pool is almost dried up, agency staff are not in the main adequately trained and exploitation is rife as agency rates have increased significantly.
During my work in the healthcare sector, I see how proud cleaning colleagues are of their work and how they do their best to fill the gaps. Longer shifts and overtime have become commonplace in an effort to support colleagues who are already exhausted and on their knees.
This is not sustainable and will impact on people’s physical and mental health. We are seeing cases of staff turning to alcohol and substance abuse with anxiety, depression, domestic abuse, self-harming and divorce all on the increase.
If this carries on, I fear we will see colleagues’ health and wellbeing destroyed in the longer term.
In the NHS and hospitality sectors, we are adopting a number of new techniques to encourage new entrants such as tailoring working hours to suit job applicants.
If we want to fill the vacancies, we must start looking at making the cleaning role more attractive. Our cleaning teams have never been more important so let’s shout about that fact.
If the industry can be seen as an attractive occupation supported by Government maybe we can mend the fractures before the damage becomes irreparable.
The BCC is striving to make the sector’s voice heard in Government, with the aim of winning recognition for the cleaning workforce who are protecting the nation, achieving key worker status for staff, supporting the Living Wage, and developing education and training for personnel.
Standing together in unity is strength. Please support the BCC in its endeavours to raise the profile of our cleaning heroes.
Staff could burnout due to personnel shortages
By British Cleaning Council Chairman, Jim Melvin (This article was first published in Tomorrow’s Cleaning in January)
I recently took part in a Radio 4 news piece focusing on the severe staff shortages in the cleaning and hygiene sector and their possible impact.
The report on You and Yours included interviews with two specialist cleaners supplied by an agency to work at a hospital in the West Midlands.
They explained and reiterated to the interviewer about the technical skills needed for the role and how physically and mentally demanding it was, cleaning hospital spaces of the Covid virus and helping save people’s lives.
They worked almost every day of the week due to the pandemic, in a demanding, high-pressure role, getting the wards and rooms ready for use as quickly as possible, while taking precautions to prevent spreading the infection.
While they spoke, the impact of staff shortages became all too clear. They said colleagues were leaving the job and so their work had to be picked up by others. As a result, people were doing double-shifts and the workforce was becoming tired and stretched.
I wrote about this issue my last column. I described how many industry colleagues are reporting staff shortages, and how this had been backed up by a recent BCC survey of industry firms representing over 30,000 employees in total, which recorded nearly 2,000 vacancies. The estimate from those figures suggested that there could be 90,000 vacancies across the industry.
As we in the industry know, the work of cleaning and hygiene staff is vital to protecting the health and wellbeing of the public, particularly during the current pandemic. Cleaning staff ensure workplaces and public buildings are clean, germ free and safe and staff are proud of their role.
In my earlier column, I outlined my fears that the major recruitment problems our industry faces could dramatically reduce that critical role, at a crucial time in the nation’s fight against the virus, with infection rates high, a new variant and in the depths of winter.
What I didn’t mention was the overriding concerns about the impact that the severe staff shortages could have on cleaning staff themselves.
While there was no indication during their BBC Radio 4 interview that the two healthcare cleaners mentioned above are themselves facing burnout, the situation they describe is being faced by personnel across the sector and I fear for the toll it must be taking on people’s physical, mental and emotional health at a time when, paradoxically, they are assisting in the mental wellbeing and confidence of others!
Over the course of the pandemic, many industry staff have taken on an extra workload as part of their role preventing the spread of the virus.
Then there are the other stresses caused by the pandemic, such as fears for your loved ones or having to unexpectedly look after self-isolating schoolchildren and the fact that it has all been dragging on for nearly two years.
Now add in covering for a growing number of vacant positions, just as the two healthcare cleaning operatives described on You and Yours, and it makes for a worrying cocktail which could lead to staff burnout, leaving personnel feeling emotionally and physically exhausted, which may result in staff being absent through illness and even leaving the industry altogether.
Reputable employers, like those in the associations which comprise the BCC’s membership, prioritise supporting their staff, but there is only so much that we can do.
We urgently need the Government to help us address the staff shortages the sector faces in order to protect our workforce, as much as for all the other reasons I’ve already highlighted.
We are now seeking an urgent meeting with the APPG to drive home this message to government on both the scale and urgency of the issue.
I will keep you informed.
Cleaning staff shortages could threaten the UK’s fight against Covid
By British Cleaning Council Chairman Jim Melvin. (This article was first published in Cleaning and Maintenance in January)
The severe staff shortages currently faced by the cleaning and hygiene sector and the Coronavirus pandemic have combined to create a perfect storm, which I fear could potentially add to the health concerns of the public and in doing so present risk.
I have rarely known it to be as hard to recruit staff as it has been recently and many industry colleagues say they are experiencing the same problems.
As advised, we surveyed a number of firms in the sector on the topic, which included some of the biggest companies, and whilst we await the remaining returns, it confirmed the scale of the trends in relation to the problem.
Firms representing over 30,000 employees in total reported nearly 2,000 vacancies in total. One firm said the number of vacancies had increased by 252 per cent in the last six months, and another by 267per cent, which are both astonishing figures.
The majority of companies taking part reported staff leaving with reasons based on foreign nationals going home or employees moving to other roles, such as truck driving or in hospitality, given the rates of pay differentials.
Until now, the cleaning and hygiene industry has depended on employees of all nationalities with overseas workers proving difficult to replace. We don’t believe it is possible to replace them all with UK nationals who have not traditionally joined the industry. The current trends suggest that nothing has changed in that regard.
These staff shortages are being exacerbated by employee absences due to the traditional winter ailments and staff also being forced to stay home to look after children who are self-isolating or whose class or school has closed due to possible virus exposure.
This challenging issue comes at a critical stage in the nation’s fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, with rates of infection still relatively high and a new variant in circulation, all of which always threatened to make it easier for the virus to spread.
The work of cleaning and hygiene staff is vital to protecting the health and wellbeing of the public, particularly during the current pandemic. We ensure workplaces and public buildings are clean, germ free and safe to use and staff are justifiably proud of the important role they play.
During the pandemic, the roles of staff have changed to focus on keeping hospitals and healthcare facilities, public transport, factories and workplaces and most other buildings and facilities clean of the disease to protect and reassure employees and visitors.
As examples, within the cleaning and hygiene sector clients have revised, changed and improved specifications for cleaning operatives to complete additional or focused tasks, such as ensuring touch points are clean, employing additional numbers or day staff and, in certain sectors, providing 24-hour cleaning.
In the healthcare sector, cleaning operatives have been asked to work longer hours, take on extra responsibilities and adopt new standards and practices to prevent Covid-19 contamination.
Across the industry, demand increased for deep cleans, sanitisation cleans and decontamination cleans, with many organisations and businesses wanting to invest in highly visible cleaning achieving a high standard.
But our critical role in keeping public spaces free of Coronavirus at this crucial time will be dramatically reduced by the staff shortages we are now experiencing. How can we continue to deliver such high standards if we don’t have enough staff?
We simply do not believe that the scale of the issue has been truly recognised at the highest level and that’s why we are campaigning to get this critical matter on the national agenda and lobby for Government assistance. After all, we all share in not wanting this to become a matter of life or death.