BCC Chairman Doug Cooke explains why all companies should support the living wage

Over the last year or so the campaign for a living wage has been building momentum both in the media and among politicians. The British Cleaning Council supports the campaign for a variety of robust, ethical and pragmatic reasons. During 2013 many more high profile companies have come on-board to pledge their support for paying the living wage or demanding it in contractual specifications. I expect, and hope, to see more of this during this year, and even more in the run up to the General Election in May 2015. However, at the same time, the European Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into conditions within our industry which the BCC is supporting with evidence. I want to take this opportunity to explain the BCC supports the living wage as one of our lead campaigns.

First, a bit about the living wage for those who have missed it. It’s an hourly rate set independently and updated annually based on research.  In London the rate is set by the Greater London Authority and covers all boroughs in Greater London.  For the rest of the UK the Centre of Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University sets the rate. It differs from the National Minimum Wage which links wages to a market value of wages but not to costs of living defined by rent and the price of goods and services.  The living wage has support from politicians of all political persuasions, and even leading economists are backing the scheme. The BCC, along with many other industry trade bodies, support the payment of the living wage on a voluntary basis to ensure that the cleaning industry is not impacted by a major change in the middle of an economic recovery, nor does it agree with a major change before a national conversation regarding spread of costs between contractor and client. However, from personal experience, I believe that costs of implementing the wage can be offset against savings in any case, when combined with daytime cleaning and quality training and development.

According to the living wage campaign’s research, 80% of employers believe that paying the living wage has enhanced the quality of work of their staff and that absenteeism has fallen by 25%. The cost of absenteeism and sudden resignation can be a huge blow to our businesses. The impact that has on the quality of service is also a huge issue. Full time permanent staff can make a huge difference to a client’s perception of a cleaning contractor. The trust placed in us to enter workplaces, schools and hospitals and improve standards is quite something, and seeing the same faces helps that trust come about. From my own experience of paying the living wage at Principle Cleaning, I’d argue that at just £8.80 an hour – it’s well worth the investment.

For a start, staff retention increases on payment of the living wage. A huge saving can be made by reducing the human resources costs of churn. This is especially true of an industry than relies on a high immigrant workforce in many areas of the country. The ever-changing requirements for immigration compliance are expensive and time consuming, but necessary to stay within the law. By reducing the number of people passing through the workforce we can save money and time and increase job satisfaction for our staff.

Looking now to training, a huge issue for our workforce especially due to the technology trend that is sweeping the cleaning industry. As we implement new management software and comply with health and safety regulation, we need a workforce that is competent and capable in multiple disciplines. We also need our lower and middle management to be confident in their abilities. This is achieved through quality training, coaching and development; which can be gravely affected by staff movement and absence.

Any company looking to implement the living wage should consider daytime cleaning as a practice to run concurrently. Daytime cleaning is a real game changer for the cleaning industry in terms of the practicality of full time hours and the living wage and is another policy that the BCC is fully behind. Cleaners have been an invisible cog in the wheel for far too long, hiding the benefits for client and cleaning company. When cleaners are visible to the client’s staff; helped by technology such as silent vacuums and micro-fibre cloths, cleaning operatives are able to integrate further into the client’s day-to-day working life and create good personal relationships. This boosts morale for the cleaner, improves performance and also helps to change the cleaning company relationship from service provider to valued partner. It also reduces the risky and unsociable travel times that night cleaners endure – long hours on public transport long after the tubes and trains have closed for the night.

Think Tanks who support The Living Wage such as Resolution Foundation and Institution for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have calculated that Living Wage would also save the government £2bn a year and would boost nationwide income by £6.5 billion a year. Savings to the government would come from lower expenditure on tax credits and increased revenue from income tax.

The final word that I will say on the living wage is that it’s the right thing to do. It creates better conditions for our hardworking cleaning operatives and management, and increases pride in work that is crucial to the health of the nation. Although I’ve explained that it doesn’t have to cost anything if teamed up with complimentary practices, and I believe that it’s a small price to pay for the dignity and pride of our workforce.

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