A few years ago, before I became an MP, I attended a property services conference in Helsinki, run by the Global Union for Cleaners, UNI.
I was struck by a presentation from ISS, a global facilities service provider, who talked about how cleaning jobs could be revolutionised, particularly with the growing emphasis on green buildings.
At that stage, most cleaners (including NZ) were employed in the traditional way. As the office staff clocked out, the cleaners clocked in – out of sight, out of mind, working for low wages – working at multiple sites and for multiple employers, often wandering from site to site during the night.
ISS talked about this could change – how cleaning could take place during the day, with cleaners working alongside other staff and perhaps expanding their skills beyond cleaning to pick up other facilities work.
So I was interested to read in Saturday’s Dom Post “that there is office cleaning revolution gathering pace in NZ, where the days of mops and wringer buckets filled with unsafe chemicals and sloshed along office corridor floors and noisy vacuum cleanings trailing long chords are numbered.”
ISS NZ is changing the equipment issued to cleaners to lightweight adjustment aluminum mops, microfibre cloths and battery powered quiet vacuum cleaners. Beginning at Te Papa a couple of years ago, ISS, who employs around 4000 cleaners says that the new system has now been adopted by 25% of their clients.
And the biggest change : changing from nighttime cleaning to daytime cleaning, bringing savings for companies in electricity and security.
While ISS says the savings are great for companies, I think the changes can create a revolution for the traditional job of a cleaner, in a number of ways. Firstly, they are more integrated as part of the building staff, not a group of “fairies” who magically appear while we’re at home sleeping. The higher visibility of cleaning staff during the day should raise the overall awareness of the process and more respect towards cleaners, especially when they see them working to keep the building clean. Coming face to face with the cleaner means greater care is often taken by staff and visitors to keep the building clean.
Secondly, daytime work offers much more family friendly options for cleaners and could make the work much more desirable.
I’ve always said cleaners are undervalued. They are responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment, and now they’re at the forefront of sustainablility in our downtown offices, our airports, schools and hospitals.
The big question is whether that means cleaners’ jobs become worth more (currently, the rate is set at $13.10 an hour), whether there can be decent, full time jobs created through upskilling to take on other work in the day to day life of an office.
NZ’s model of competitive tendering means that more often than not, cleaners are transferred to a new employer who expects them to do the same amount of work for fewer hours.
So, let’s have a revolution in office cleaning, but if it’s still work for vulnerable workers who have to work two or three jobs to make a living, it’s only a revolution for the better off.