essential workers

SIPTU calls on cleaning companies to honour 'agreed' 40 cent per hour pay increase

A new Employment Regulation Order for contract cleaners was delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

TRADE UNION SIPTU has called on employers in the contract cleaning sector to honour a 40 cent-per-hour pay increase for cleaners that they say has been agreed upon but not implemented.

Since 2015, SIPTU has negotiated with employers in the sector — represented by the Irish Contract Cleaners Association (ICCA) — to set minimum pay standards through legally binding Employment Regulation Orders (ERO).

The last ERO expired in 2018 but SIPTU said that a new one had been negotiated earlier this year through the Contract Cleaning Joint Labour Committee and was awaiting formal Labour Court approval when the Covid-19 outbreak delayed its finalisation.

According to the draft ERO, published by the Labour Court on 9 January, the order would have increased the hourly rate of pay for contract cleaners — who provide outsourced cleaning services to businesses and workplaces including hospitals — from €10.80 to €11.20 on 1 March.

But the ICCA, which represents 75% of companies in the contract cleaning sector, said it is now “asking to re-open negotiations around the current pay proposal for the contract cleaning sector”.

In a statement, the association said, “Since the proposal was submitted to the Labour Court, the economic context in which the contract cleaning industry operates has changed profoundly. 

“In common with almost every other industry in Ireland, the contract cleaning industry has been negatively impacted by the economic consequences of Covid-19… As a result of the sudden and severe economic repercussions of Covid-19, the ICCA wrote to the Joint Labour Committee on 29 April 2020, asking to re-open negotiations around the current pay proposal for the contract cleaning sector.

“We are not asking for the 40c increase to be dropped. Rather, we asked for a meeting to discuss the timing of the increase, with a view to ensuring it is introduced in a way that does not result in additional lay-offs or the cessation of contracts by clients, many of whom are themselves experiencing unprecedented loss of income and resulting financial pressures.”

“We remain committed to working with the trade unions – through the JLC process – to ensure fair remuneration and working conditions for all those employed in the contract cleaning sector.”

SIPTU organiser Teresa Hannick, who represents the workers, said, “Really, it’s unbelievable. We’re talking about essential workers at this stage. Most of these cleaners are in hospitals and healthcare facilities and even in transport. People are going out clapping for frontline workers and cleaners and we have a group of employers now saying, ‘we can’t afford to pay an increase.’”

Senator Paul Gavan, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on worker’s rights, said that the decision “to withhold this pay rise simply beggars belief”.

“We have contract cleaners putting their lives on the line in hospitals throughout the country, who get paid just €10.80 an hour. Their union, SIPTU, had negotiated a 40 cent increase in good faith with employers.”

It is understood that the ICCA believes that it is not ‘withholding’ the pay increase because it has not yet been given Labour Court approval.

In a press release on 18 May, ICCA board member Cormac Sheils — who is also managing director of cleaning firm Bidvest Noonan — said that many employers in the sector have “experienced sharp downturns in demand for their services” because of school, retail and other workplace closures.

“On the other hand, however, many of our members have seen increased demand for specialist cleaning and emergency response services, with a significantly increased demand in pharma and healthcare settings,” Sheils said.

“Throughout this pandemic, our cleaning staff have been on the frontlines – in hospitals, factories and care facilities – ensuring essential workplaces are clean and germ-free.” 

“Cleaners are themselves providing an essential service during this difficult time. We have stepped up to the mark without hesitation, and we are ready and willing to continue to play our part in the reopening of Ireland’s economy. To ensure we can, it is vital we receive support on PPE issues and recognition of the additional costs incurred due to the pandemic.”

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