A just-released Asset Skills (UK) Intelligence paper (issue 10), authored by researcher Helen Kemp, indicates that migrant workers continue to play a significant role in the cleaning industries of a number of nations including; Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Finland and England. In Ireland however, the proportion of migrant workers is beginning to diminish due to economic conditions.
Evidence suggests that staff turnover (traditionally an issue for the cleaning industry) is significantly reduced by improved wages. For example, Singapore has no minimum wage and staff turnover rates of up to 80% per annum, while cleaners in Australia earn $21.80 per hour, $6.80 higher than the minimum wage and have an annual staff turnover rate between 17 to 35%.
Low levels of basic literacy, numeracy and language skills are expected to hinder the development of higher level skills within the cleaning industry during the next three years according to representatives from Norway, Finland, Ireland and the UK due to the fact that training programmes are more difficult and costly to provide.
The cleaning industry in New Zealand employs approximately 35,000 people, with a typical cleaner earning NZ$13.10 per hour (£6.36), only NZ$0.35 (0.20p) higher than the minimum wage. This has contributed to annual staff turnover rates of 45% in the New Zealand cleaning industry, although this rate varies depending on the size of the company. Respondents stated that the main causes of staff turnover in New Zealand included: Employees leaving to take up full-time employment; contract changes; moving to a better job; and a change in personal circumstances.
In contrast, a cleaner in Australia earns approximately $21.80 per hour (£13.47), $6.80 higher than the minimum wage. Australian cleaners are often employed on a casual basis resulting in the employer perception that training provision to reduce staff turnover would be a waste of money. Despite the temporary nature of employment, annual staff turnover rates in the Australian cleaning industry are relatively low (17 to 35%) in comparison to Singapore, New Zealand and the UK. Experts suggest that some causes of staff turnover in Australia include: Low wages, poor training, poor leadership and unreasonable expectations.
Migrant workers form a relatively high proportion of the workforce in Australia, Norway (50%), Ireland (70%), New Zealand (45%), Finland (20%) and England (37%). However, respondents highlighted a number of key issues related to the employment of migrant workers that were characteristic of their nation.
For example, in New Zealand, cleaning professionals reported that high proportions of migrant workers are employed in the cleaning industry because these occupations provide migrants with opportunities to meet their short term financial needs when they move into the country and that without migrant workers the cleaning industry would experience a labour shortage.
In Australia, experts suggest that the employment of migrant workers and older workers has caused a deficit of specialised cleaning skills because they have moved into the industry without basic language, literacy and numeracy skills. According to recent figures, 40% of the Australian workforce across all industries is affected by low literacy skills, while 44% of the workforce has low numeracy skills.
Typical wage levels of cleaners in pounds sterling, per hour, are: Ireland 8.10, Singapore 1.69, New Zealand 6.36, Australia 13.47, Finland 8.03 and the UK 6.00.
Contributions to the Asset Skills research came from Property Services Industry Skills Council (Australia) and BSC ITO (New Zealand).