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Cleaning Staff vs. Shop Workers – who gets paid more?

It’s that time of year again when we’ll learn the new National Living Wage rate in the UK.

Cleaning companies, restaurant owners, shopkeepers, coffee shop multiples – we’re all waiting eagerly to know any day now what the rate will be set at for 1 April 2020.

In 1986, as a student at Edinburgh University, I got a job as a cleaner at £2.40 per hr. That £24 weekly wage for 10 hrs work was actually quite useful to me, despite the 4:30am start.

When I set up Spotless in 1988, winning the contract for a large law firm in Edinburgh (we still clean it), I thought our staff wage rate of £3.20 was definitely on the generous side.

How times have changed. And for the better.

The National Minimum Wage was introduced in 1999 at £3.60 for those aged 21, edging up to £5.80 in the next 10 years.

It is now replaced by the National Living Wage, presently set at £8.21.

The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, recently announced that in the next 5 years it will reach £10.55. The hope is that we will eventually reach the levels of the superior Living Wage, or at least close the existing 79p gap.

But for the cleaning industry, the real story of the new market forces lies below the surface.

Instead of being effectively the poorest paid in the UK, market forces are now determining that cleaners are paid more than shop workers, baristas, security guards, kitchen staff, and even some office workers!

Why? Because they are short shifts at mostly unsociable hours.

What’s going to attract more applicants? A 9-to-5 shift in a shop, restaurant or coffee bar in the town centre, or a 6-8am cleaning shift? And assume the bus fare is £1.70 each way.

In reality, what is now happening is that cleaners want to do multiple shifts over a 6-8 hr period, and if there are jobs available at the Real Living Wage (£9 per hr), well they’ll always apply for those first.

More and more cleaning companies are becoming Living Wage accredited, and this is inevitably the way we are headed, too.

Net migration is down sharply since 2016, and we’re expecting a significant ‘Brexodus’ over the next few years. Cleaning standards are more scrutinised than ever before, and cleaning staff are ever more accountable.

There are simply fewer people who are available to clean. There are arguably more jobs than applicants!

Luckily, there are many companies that recognise that they now have to pay more for good quality cleaning. Higher wages for cleaners equals lower staff turnover and higher morale.

It is our task as a sector to drive this agenda.

Written by Roger Green, CEO, Spotless Commercial Cleaning.