Skip to main content

Employment: Office Cleaning

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether in the light of their work-life balance policies they will support the British Cleaning Council’s campaign to promote a return to daytime office cleaning.

My Lords, hours of work are a matter for agreement between employers and their employees, subject to the requirements of the working time regulations.

My Lords, given that most office cleaners are low-paid women who work part-time and have family responsibilities, will the Government actively support the British Cleaning Council’s call for a return to daytime office cleaning, which will allow and enable employers to recruit, train and retain a more reliable, productive and motivated workforce who are responsive to daily office cleaning needs? It would also benefit employees in better and more social working hours, greater safety and protection, and reduced travel costs.

My Lords, my noble friend was a very diligent Member of the European Parliament, where we worked together, and is a no less diligent Member of your Lordships’ House. In supporting the work-life balance the Government have supported the employee’s choice on their working hours. We have been actively encouraging employers to think more creatively about the hours that workers should work, rather than just the usual nine to five. We have introduced a series of measures to improve workers’ conditions and to give them protection. In particular we introduced the national minimum wage, ensured that workers are not obligated to work for more than 48 hours a week and introduced an entitlement to four weeks’ paid leave and to rest breaks. We have introduced a range of other measures such as the right to take time off work to deal with family emergencies, flexible working hours and two weeks’ paid paternity leave.

My Lords, I declare an interest. I am the chairman and chief executive of an insurance broking organisation that provides insurance cover to the cleaning industry. Our organisation is also a member of the Cleaning and Support Services Association, which is broadly supportive of daytime cleaning. Some 900,000 people are employed in the cleaning industry in the United Kingdom, but only 24 per cent of the work is undertaken in the daytime. In European countries such as Sweden, about 78 per cent of commercial cleaning is undertaken during the day. Do the Government intend to introduce daytime cleaning in the various government offices?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. The fact is that 87 per cent of employees are either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the hours they currently work. As for daytime cleaning, many workers, including cleaners, work during daylight hours. Many prefer to do so because they can, for example, work early in the morning and then deliver their children to school. Many employees choose to work earlier rather than later. My own department, the DTI, has 127 cleaners. The earliest cleaning shift starts between 5 am and 6 am. Some 18 cleaners work full-time, and about 70 per cent of the cleaners work part-time in the morning.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is an interesting if perhaps peculiar connection between this Question and efforts to ameliorate climate change? The pernicious and wasteful habit of leaving all the lights on all night in buildings in the City, in Westminster and elsewhere is—at least in my experience during my years at the DTI, where I tried to stop it—attributed to the nocturnal or—more accurately, in ecological terms—crepuscular activities of the cleaning staff.

My Lords, that is an interesting point. The Government are doing an awful lot in this field, and there is a good news story to be told. For example, as a result of the work of the Women and Work Commission, led by my noble friend Lady Prosser, we have introduced a £500,000 quality part-time work fund which will support projects to increase the number of senior and quality jobs that are available part time. Under this Government there are now twice as many women judges as there were 10 years ago.

Noble Lords: Oh!

You may laugh, my Lords, but for too long there has been a glass ceiling for women in this country. The Government are introducing measures to enable women to work the hours they want to work and to ensure they have the opportunity they require to develop their careers. That is the right path to take.

My Lords, surely one must recognise that there will often be real practical difficulties in organising daytime cleaning of busy working premises. Will my noble friend agree that employers, both direct and indirect, ought to provide a decent package for cleaners including, at the very least, the national minimum wage, a pension contribution, sick pay and holiday pay? Given that, all too often, unfortunately, that is not the case, will my noble friend say what further steps the Government intend to take to ensure that all employers meet proper legal and ethical standards?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a serious point, and these are serious issues. The Government have established two vulnerable worker pilots, one of which is in the City of London and focuses on the cleaning sector. The two-year pilot is about developing local partnership with unions, businesses and other groups to ensure that vulnerable workers have the rights that they are entitled to and that they develop their skills. Further to my noble friend Lord Harrison’s earlier point, a member of the British Cleaning Council is on that practitioner panel. These are serious matters, and I don’t quite understand the joke here.

My Lords, I will not be tempted into asking the Minister whether, in his view, women judges do their own cleaning. Does he not accept that there is consensus in your Lordships' House and elsewhere that this is an overregulated economy and that further regulation in this area would therefore be inappropriate?

My Lords, we need to protect workers. Returning to the question of whether judges clean, I hope that male judges do their share of the cleaning at home.