5 September 2014
The UK equalities body will take enforcement action against any companies that do not improve working practices for their cleaning staff.
A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published last month showed that some employers in the commercial cleaning industry are failing to meet their responsibilities to their staff on pay, holiday or sick leave or dealing with their concerns.
Many cleaners felt their employer, client firms and the public do not treat them with dignity and respect.
The EHRC listed recommendations in the report and has set up a task force to address bad practice within the sector.
Alice Teague, programme head of Employment and Economy at the EHRC, told FM World that the new task force will aim to improve practices in the areas of: more responsible procurement; how to treat cleaning operatives with dignity and respect; and raise awareness of employment obligations and workers' rights.
THE EHRC will then talk to workers, unions, clients and companies that have bad practices (exemplified by testimonies in the report) and hold them to account and discuss ways they can change their methods.
She said: "Following that, if there hasn't been an improvement, we will have to consider taking enforcement action." Teague said it was "a last resort" measure but could happen.
This could include launching an investigation into the firm's practices or passing on reports of continuing bad practice to other authority watchdogs.
The report, Invisible Workforce, said that although the commission found many examples of good employer practices, many cleaners spoke of being spoken to rudely and treated badly.
Many cleaners said they received no support when they complained of being harassed or bullied. Others said they were afraid to report problems for fear of losing their jobs, and pregnant workers said they were threatened with dismissal.
Many cleaners reported problems with under-payment or non-payment of wages. The report identified examples of workers being sacked for complaining about not being paid in full and on time.
It found that longer contracts led to more positive relationships between client and cleaning firm, giving cleaners more job stability.
Migrant workers' lack of awareness of employment rights and poor language skills left them vulnerable to mistreatment. In some cases employers wrongly told permanent workers they were not entitled to paid holiday or sick leave.