Cleaners in public sector are struggling to maintain hygiene, says UNISON

Date: Tues 26 August 2014

A report out today (Tuesday) by UNISON Scotland, Dishing the Dirt, paints a bleak picture of cleaning staff – who are struggling to keep hospitals, local government and other offices clean. They feel undervalued by their managers, and are asked to clean more, with less staff, and cheaper less effective cleaning materials.

The report is based on interviews with cleaners across NHS Scotland, local council offices, colleges and elsewhere in both public and contracted out services.

Those surveyed claimed they are trapped in an endless cycle of work. They are badly paid but their pay is going down in real terms, and they rarely consulted about their views at work. They are an undervalued, isolated sector.

Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland’s Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, said: “Cleaners provide a vital service across our public services, but they tell us how the cuts mean they are struggling to keep up hygiene standards. And they worry about it.

“We have evidence of cleaners who are being told to clean with washing up liquid instead of bleach because it is cheaper, and being asked to use cold water instead of hot, or using old mop heads. Cleaners say they are not getting the results they would like because they are now having to clean two offices in the same time they used to clean one.”

The report also highlights poor pay and conditions in the sector. Almost 1 in 5 of those not in the pension scheme had to drop out because they could no longer afford the contributions. Cleaners struggle to pay their rent and bills and many complain about constant stress because they are in debt.

Dave Watson continued: “We are very concerned about the levels of hardship we found, our evidence leaves you in no doubt cleaners are feeling the worst of austerity. Cleaners told us they are constantly tired but always looking for overtime. Some get up at 5.30am and can still be working at 8.30pm.

“They struggle to pay bills and can’t afford holidays. The fact so many had to drop out their pension scheme because they can’t afford the contributions is damning. We urgently need to look at how we value cleaning staff throughout the public sector.”


Further information for Editors

  1. UNISON is Scotland’s biggest public service trade union
  2. The full report – Dishing the Dirt: cleaners in Scotland’s Public Services speak out – is available at