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BCC warns public health could be put at risk by severe staff shortages

Severe staff shortages affecting the cleaning and hygiene sector, combined with an increased threat from Coronavirus, could potentially put the health of members of the public at risk, the body representing the industry has warned.

The British Cleaning Council (BCC) fears that major recruitment problems could dramatically reduce the sector’s critical role in keeping public spaces free of the virus, at a crucial time in the nation’s fight against it, with infection rates relatively high, a new variant and with winter upon us.

The work of cleaning and hygiene staff is vital to protecting the health and wellbeing of the public, particularly during the current pandemic. Staff ensure workplaces and public buildings remain clean to help in ensuring they are germ free and safe to use.

Anecdotal evidence of sector businesses reporting significant recruitment issues has been reinforced by a recent BCC survey of cleaning and hygiene industry firms representing over 30,000 employees in total, which recorded nearly 2,000 vacancies. The BCC is continuing to survey sector firms and will release updated figures on final confirmation.

However the trends to date include one firm saying the number of vacancies had increased by 252 per cent in the last six months, and another by 267 per cent, both astonishing figures.

The BCC is urgently calling for the Government to work with the industry to ensure an immediate solution to the staffing issues and, in the longer term, help ensure that there is a clear skills pathway to ensure the industry becomes an attractive career choice.

BCC Chairman Jim Melvin said: “I fear the staff shortages our sector faces, combined with the growing threat from Coronavirus, could create a perfect storm which could add to the risk to the health of members of the public. 

“Cleaning and hygiene staff protect the health and well-being of everyone by keeping hospitals and healthcare facilities, public transport, factories, workplaces, supermarkets and most other public buildings and facilities clean. In doing so, they reduce the effectiveness of the virus. 

“In busy buildings, surfaces can be touched by scores of people and if one of them is infected, the virus can spread from there to someone else.

“During the pandemic, cleaning regimes in buildings across the country were amended or expanded to keep surfaces and touch-points clean and germ free. Our skilled staff are proud of the role they have played in fighting the virus.

“But this critical role of keeping public spaces free of Coronavirus will clearly be dramatically reduced by the staff shortages we are now experiencing.

“How can we continue to deliver the high standards of cleaning needed if we don’t have enough staff?   

“The situation has been further exacerbated by employee absences due to the traditional winter ailments and parents also being forced to stay home to look after children who are self-isolating.  

“It all comes at a crucial time in the nation’s fight against the pandemic, with infection rates increasing aligned to the new variant and with winter now upon us.

“We simply do not believe that the scale of the issue has been truly recognised at the highest level and that’s why we are campaigning to get this critical matter on the national agenda and lobby for Government assistance.

“After all, we all share in not wanting this to become a severe issue that returns us to the days of lockdown or even more serious health issues.”

The majority of companies taking part in the BCC survey reported that staff had left giving reasons based on foreign nationals going home or employees moving to other roles which have received Government assistance, such as HGV driving or in hospitality.

The cleaning and hygiene industry depends on employees of all nationalities. Labour Force Survey figures from 2019 showed that 37 per cent of the cleaning and hygiene industry workforce were from overseas. It is believed that the figure is now much higher.

The immigration system introduced in the wake of Brexit classified cleaning and hygiene operatives as low-skilled, making it much more difficult for overseas staff to find work in the sector and so positions are proving difficult to fill.

UK nationals have traditionally never joined the industry and with an inaccurate example such as the Home Office classification being one of the reasons, it is not a surprise.

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, many cleaning and hygiene sector clients revised, changed and improved specifications for cleaning operatives, for example, to complete additional or focused tasks, such as ensuring touch points are clean, employing additional numbers or day staff and, in certain sectors, providing 24-hour cleaning.

In the healthcare sector, cleaning operatives have been asked to work longer hours, take on extra responsibilities and adopt new standards and practices to prevent Covid-19 contamination.

Across the industry, since the start of the pandemic, demand has also increased for deep cleans, sanitisation cleans and decontamination cleans, with many organisations and businesses trying hard to invest in highly visible cleaning aimed at achieving a high standard.

The latest news and updates on this issue will be shared on the BCC’s social media accounts using the hashtag #CleaningProtectsPeoplesHealth

About Sarah OBeirne

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