The Equality and Human Rights Commission in Europe conducted a study to examine employment practices in the cleaning sector. The goal was to gather information on how employers were complying with their equality obligations in the workplace and respect for human rights.

The study specifically looked at custodial operations in commercial, healthcare, retail and hospitality facilities. It focused on many key areas of the job, including:
• Dignity and respect
• Equality and non-discrimination at work
• Pay/compensation
• Working hours
• Safe work environment

The study revealed some surprising results.

A lack of values (fairness, dignity and respect) in regards to the treatment of workers was an underlying theme. Workers reported taking great pride in their work, but did not always feel they were afforded the same dignity and respect shown to others in the workplace. A significant number of respondents said they are treated differently from, or worse than others — they were often harassed and abused. Workers spoke of being ‘invisible’ and ‘the lowest of the low’, as a result of treatment by their supervisors and the public.

The study revealed that most custodial operations implemented equality policies and in some cases, training. However, in some cases, migrant workers reported discriminatory treatment by their supervisors or colleagues.

Low pay is prevalent across the custodial sector, with wages close to, or at, minimum wage. The study found no systemic problems of unequal pay between men and women.

Some workers surveyed struggled with the availability of holiday or sick leave, forcing them to come in when ill. That said, many workers complained about unrealistic workloads and the inability to take breaks. Others were forced to work additional hours without extra pay.

Custodial workers raised few health and safety concerns when asked about the environment. In fact, most operations had health and safety policies in place, offered relevant employee training of some kind and provided workers with the personal protective equipment they needed to get the work done.

For additional findings from this survey, click here.