A new scheme that aims to tackle wage exploitation and poor conditions in the cleaning industry will be put to the test by researchers.
The Cleaning Accountability Framework uses market forces to reward companies committed to fair working conditions. After a three-year pilot project, it is now being rolled out more widely.
Associate Professor Sarah Kaine and Professor Emmanuel Josserand, from the UTS Centre for Business and Social Innovation, are part of a cross-disciplinary research project, funded by the Australian Research Council, to determine what’s working and what’s not working.
The cleaning industry, which employs more than 122,000 workers, is characterised by high rates of underpayment and denial of entitlements.
“With large-scale noncompliance, regulators and unions are fighting a losing battle, so other methods are needed to tackle wage exploitation,” says Kaine.
Josserand says the voluntary scheme includes all those who are involved in the supply chain – from building owners, facility managers and cleaning contract companies to tenants in buildings.
“Stakeholders take part in an accreditation process to verify that standards concerning wages and entitlements, workplace health and safety, and working conditions are being met,” he says.
The process will actively involve the on-site cleaning workforce, and the research project includes the development of a smartphone app to collect information from workers on the ground.
“Over time, as this certification becomes established, being socially responsible will become a competitive feature in the cleaning industry,” says Kaine.
“Not complying with the standards will result in potential reputational risk for building owners and investors. Cleaning companies that don’t comply won’t be competitive when bidding for contracts,” she says.
The researchers hope that by examining the implementation of CAF they can also assess how the approach might work in other sectors facing wage theft, to improve the lives of vulnerable workers.