The cleaning industry has long had a reputation for exploiting workers, as cut-throat competition delivers contracts with profit margins so thin there’s little room to pay cleaners their legal entitlements.
The Cleaning Accountability Framework, with the help of a group of business, law and IT researchers, is making inroads into what has seemed at times an intractable problem.
Dr Martijn Boersma, who lectures in industrial relations and business ethics at the University of Technology Sydney Business School, has been working with CAF and says non-compliance with labour standards has been a big issue in the cleaning industry.
That’s because of the extensive use of casual employment and subcontracting, and labour cost minimisation among other factors. The result is that cleaners – numbering about 150,000 in Australia – are one of the most vulnerable sectors in the labour market.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman has performed a number of audits over the years. Unfortunately, this has done little to address structural issues. Trade unions have campaigned actively, again with mixed results,” Dr Boersma says.
In 2013, the CAF emerged as a body to bring together business, the union representing cleaners, and the Fair Work Ombudsman with the aim of lifting standards, initially via a framework for best practice and more recently with a voluntary certification scheme.
Its mission is to end exploitation in property services and improve work standards by supporting sustainably priced and efficient cleaning services. It aims to ensure compliance with workplace laws and regulations, engage workers and contractors, foster accountability and transparency in supply chains and recognise stakeholders who implement best-practice standards.
In 2018, CAF and UTS joined forces as part of an Australian Research Council grant to review and contribute to development of the now widening scheme. Academics specialising in labour standards, supply chain regulation, multi-stakeholder frameworks, accounting and digital solutions have worked with the group in the years since. Initially, the researchers assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the framework that had evolved over the preceding years.
“We then looked very closely at the supply chain structure,” Dr Boersma says. “And when I say, ‘Australian cleaning industry’, I mean ‘Australian commercial real estate supply chain’.