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A cleaner Europe

15 May 2007

Cleaning contractors are major employers across Europe and form a key industry sector. They work together to improve standards and professionalism through the EFCI and discuss mayor EU-wide issues as its director, Andreas Lill, explains to Frank Booty

THE INDUSTRIAL CLEANING SECTOR IN EUROPE represents one of the most important service industries while satisfying a key need of ensuring hygiene and cleanliness. In economic and labour terms, industrial cleaning represents one of the most dynamic areas of corporate services. Some 94,000 cleaning contractors employ over three million employees in Europe, generating a turnover of €44.5bn.

Andreas Lill, Director of Brussels-based European Federation of Cleaning Industries (EFCI) says, “These figures are based on data collected by us from our members across 18 EU member states last year and predominantly relate to 2003 figures, which are the latest available. We expect the next set of figures relating to 2005 due this autumn to be higher, and then for 2006 to be higher still.”

Established in 1988, EFCI includes representative national professional organisations of the cleaning industry. The organisation’s website reflects today’s Europe in that it’s a Franco-Belgian translation of the title Federation Europeenne du Nettoyage Industriel (FENI). In addition, EFCI has established a Circle open to cleaning contractors and other organisations active in the industry. The most recent EFCI General Assembly and Circle seminar dedicated to the recently-adopted European Services Directive, and the free movement of labour in the EU and its implications for the cleaning industry, was held in Paris last month.

EFCI is recognised as a social partner by the European Commission, and defends employers’ interests within the Social Affairs Committee and trade union partner, UNI-Europa. Its key missions are to:
● Ensure continuous monitoring of the industry and cover cleaning contractors’ interests relevant to European policies and legislation
● Promote professional development.
● Seek better recognition for the profession and improve its public image.

Services Directive
Before the European Services Directive was signed last December (to be transposed into each member state by December 2009), the EFCI was concerned about two different points -the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide a service. As Lill explained, “The freedom of establishment concerns a company being able to go to another EU country and offer cross border services without having a ‘fixed’ establishment. In general it is good that both of these items are in the Directive. Both principles will involve the creation of a single point of contact in a foreign country to the country of origin. Foreign service providers operating in a country will need these to be able to offer services in that country. This is a great benefit for ourselves as it facilitates free trade and provision of services.”

It wasn’t always like this. In January 2004 the EC produced its original proposal for the Directive. EFCI argued against the provision that services could be offered in another member state, but the legal, H&S rules etc would be those of the country of origin and ignore the existing labour and social laws of the country of operation. The EFCI argued that fair competition would not have been possible particularly with many Eastern European states joining the EC with labour rates of €2 per hour or less. The Directive’s final version sees both the freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services temporarily agreed and safeguarded.

Free movement
One of the fundamental rights established by the Treaty of Rome is the free movement of labour. However, enlargement of the EU into Eastern Europe has resulted in three different time periods concerning the restriction of free movement for the ‘new’ member states – 2004-2006, 2006-2009 and 2009-2011.Only three countries (UK, Eire and Sweden) decided not to apply any restrictions. Now most of the ‘old’ countries are opening up their labour markets according to specific needs and most will have completely opened up their borders in 2009. As Lill explained, “Only two are not opened up - Austria and Germany - closest to the eastern bloc and its supply of cheap labour. There is a widespread fear of what has been unfortunately termed ‘social dumping’.”

The Services Directive and free movement of labour by 2009 was originally set to operate across 25 member countries. Now there are two more countries which gained accession in 2007 – Bulgaria and Rumania. “The old 25 had to renegotiate, and due to theprevailing opinions and experiences in the UK of the earlier open borders decision, it has been decided to close UK borders to Rumania and Bulgaria until 2009,” says Lill.

Daytime cleaning
EFCI and UNI-Europa have issued a joint declaration on daytime cleaning arguing that experience shows daytime cleaning does positively affect the quality of services provided. “This is particularly accepted in Scandinavian countries where in Sweden 70 per cent of the work is daytime cleaning,” commented Lill. “We must improve the image of cleaning. We must value cleaners’ work, make cleaning attractive, reduce the high staff turnover and give cleaners more importance. They need to become – or feel they are – part of a company. This joint declaration goes a long way if properly enacted towards meeting these aims. Through adopting a daytime cleaning ethos, it will allow employees to carry out more tasks than cleaning, which will increase their employability within the sector, give the opportunity to work more hours and thus achieve an increase in income.”

Labour costs
Cleaning labour costs across the EU are highly complex. According to the EFCI’s surveys in 2006, direct wages (i.e. the gross minimum hourly wage) ranged from €1.90 in the Czech Republic, €2.41 in Portugal, about €7.49 in the UK to €14.83 in Denmark. There are different taxes, social costs and costs of living in each member state. Denmark’ s hourly rate might sound highly attractive but tax rates there are over 50 per cent.

Training is another common issue. “We need people to be trained to stay in our industry,” explained Lill. “Training is much more advanced in France, Belgium and the UK but much more needs to – and must – be done. Training gives value to employees and makes them feel rewarded and willing to stay in the industry. But it all comes at a cost.”

Lill continued: “Clients understand that quality has its price. Opting for the cheapest quote does not necessarily offer quality but in 80 per cent of cases where there is a cheaper quote it wins the business. In 2004 we developed a guide to selecting best value – a public procedure where if the process was not to select best quality, it had to seek the most economically advantaged offer. Training, quality and better organisational structures are all key components of a better future for the cleaning industry. “ Cleaning is a service that people notice when it is not done. “We need to change that view,” says Lill. “We need to change it so people remark positively that a good job is being done – that’s part of our remit.”

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