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Priority COVID Vaccines for Cleaners – Industry Reactions

Priority COVID Vaccines for Cleaners – Industry Reactions
11 February 2021
 

With the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the cleaning sector inaugurated, how do the facilities managers who employ cleaners feel about the vaccine debate?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) doesn’t currently recognise cleaning or hygiene operatives as key workers in the UK, and therefore this workforce has no priority access to the COVID-19 vaccination. This is one of the main drivers behind the formation of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The group will represent the interests of the cleaning and hygiene sector in parliament and influence MPs, ministers and government.

The BCC wants the APPG to put the status of the sector’s operatives as key and essential workers, and their priority for COVID-19 vaccination, at the top of its agenda, in recognition of their role fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

ThisWeekinFM spoke to several facilities management service providers, who employ cleaning staff directly, about their thoughts on key worker status for FM staff, and access to the COVID vaccination.

 

"Declaring who is and who isn’t a key worker has been a complex and difficult balancing act, which – rightly so – has been about exposing as few people as possible to risk while also ensuring the economy could continue. Cleaners are an essential function in reducing risk to many, and in keeping the industries deemed essential operational."

–Esther Park

Head of People, Unify by Bruntwood

 

 

Recognition is Long Overdue

 

Cleanology Chief Executive Dominic Ponniah praises the APPG formation and feels that recognition for cleaners is long overdue. He told us: “It will be really interesting to see what the APPG will achieve. I think it’s almost a reaction to the lack of official recognition from the government over the years. It’s a great start and the group has a lot of work to do.

“One of the first things needs to be the recognition of key worker status for cleaning operatives. We have in our own internal way tried to implement this, by giving our staff letters they can carry around.”

 

Dominic Ponniah

Picture:  photograph of Dominic Ponniah, (centre) with staff from Cleanology

 

Vaccine Passports

 

One proposed solution to reopening society post-COVID is the use of digital health passports, digital certificates that authenticate a person’s identity, their COVID test results and statement of their vaccinations.

Despite such technology’s controversy amongst some, Ponniah feels it might be a way forward:

“Vaccine passports can be controversial, but they are probably the right thing on balance. To prove you’ve had the vaccine, it’s one way forward. 

“But we won’t mandate that our employees have the vaccine. I think that his serious ethical questions surrounding it. I think most people will want to have it and do the right thing for wider society.”

 

How Are Cleaners Being Protected?

 

"Although not directly employed by the government, our frontline colleagues – not just cleaners, but also porters, security officers, engineers and waste managers – are playing a key role in the UK’s fight against coronavirus. And so, they deserve to be treated as equals to their public sector colleagues in accessing vaccinations."

– Jasmine Hudson

HR Director, Mitie Group

 

Mitie is one of the largest facilities management services company, and it employs over 21,000 cleaning personnel across the UK. Some of Britain’s largest public sector organisations contract Mitie staff for their cleaning operations.

We asked Jasmine Hudson, HR Director at Mitie Group, what measures they have taken to protect their cleaners, and she explained some of the additional initiatives in place:

“For instance, this includes ensuring that all our frontline colleagues are provided with the PPE and training they need, as well as regular refresher sessions, to ensure they can do their jobs safely. In addition to this, we’ve sent reusable face coverings to all our employees to help them stay safe outside of work and during their commutes.

“On top of this, we’ve also rolled-out a number of industry-leading benefits to ensure we’re offering the support our colleagues need during these difficult times. These benefits include access to a virtual GP service for every Mitie colleague and their families as well as providing free Life Assurance for all 77,500 Mitie employees.”

In 2020, Mitie also awarded its staff an extra day of holiday, as a gesture of thanks for the work of their frontline colleagues during COVID-19.

 

Some NHS Trusts Include Outsourced Staff in Vaccination Rollout

 

In terms of vaccinations, Hudson told us that all of the NHS Foundation Trusts they work with have included Mitie staff working on their sites in their vaccination programmes:

"Although not directly employed by the government, our frontline colleagues – not just cleaners, but also porters, security officers, engineers and waste managers – are playing a key role in the UK’s fight against coronavirus. And so, they deserve to be treated as equals to their public sector colleagues in accessing vaccinations. 

"We now hope the UK Government and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) also recognises this and adds frontline workers in other higher-risk roles, such as colleagues working in Coronavirus test centres, to the priority list for COVID vaccines." 

 

Jasmine Hudson

Picture: a photograph of Jasmine Hudson

 

Declaring Key Worker Status is a Complex Balancing Act

 

Esther Park, Head of People at Unify by Bruntwood, feels that although deciding who does and doesn’t qualify as an essential worker is a tough task, cleaners being forgotten is still a disappointment.

She told us: “The cleaning industry has long been made up of an invisible labour force, working unsociable hours and going completely unnoticed until something requires maintenance.

“But COVID-19 brought sanitising, disinfection and deep cleaning into the spotlight and the surge in demand for cleaning services to keep essential environments – such as supermarkets, hospitals and nurseries – open and safe has demonstrated the vital role that cleaners play in every single supply chain.

“Declaring who is and who isn’t a key worker has been a complex and difficult balancing act, which –rightly so – has been about exposing as few people as possible to risk while also ensuring the economy could continue. Cleaners are an essential function in reducing risk to many, and in keeping the industries deemed essential operational.

“At this stage in the pandemic, for cleaners to still not be recognised as key workers, is disappointing and we’d like to see it change in order to continue protecting as many people as possible.”

 

Esther park

Picture: a photograph of Esther Park

 

Adam Baker, Director at ABM UK agrees, stating that he regards their cleaning teams as key workers:

"A large proportion of our team is working on sites which are open because they provide an essential service. It is absolutely crucial that those sites maintain the highest level of hygiene and disinfection protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This goes for all sites which will open again once restrictions ease - our team is vital in keeping people as safe so they can be in these public spaces."

Picture: a photograph of a person with their shirt sleeve rolled up, and a person in PPE holding a needle

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 11 February 2021

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