WHEN Regina Venckuviene first moved to London from Lithuania, 14 years ago, she worked as a cleaner in a hotel. It was, she recalls, “horrible”. She was handed money in an envelope at the end of her shift: £2 per room cleaned. There was no time off, or holiday allowance, and anyone who complained was told “If you don’t like it, go.”
It makes a stark contrast with her current employment, as assistant manager for Clean for Good, launched last week as “London’s first ethical cleaning company”. “I never met so many people who care about the cleaners,” she says of the clients.
She is speaking in the offices of Clean for Good’s newest customer: Shepherd & Wedderburn, a corporate law firm that has supported the company with legal advice. It lies within the parish of St Andrew by the Wardrobe, in London, where Clean for Good was first conceived as a social enterprise by Miriam Goodacre, three years ago (News, 15 May 2015).
With the support of the Centre for Theology and Community (CTC), the Corporation of London, and the Church Mission Society, it is now employing several cleaners and working with clients across London.
The development director at CTC, Tim Thorlby, says that, although a handful of other cleaning companies pay the London Living Wage (£9.75 an hour), Clean for Good also promises training, good management, and investment in staff development.
It is “an attempt to answer a social problem with a business”, he says. “Government is wonderful, charity is wonderful, so is business.” He hopes to see “the transformation of the cleaning sector in London. . . Every human being, from the chief executive to the cleaner, is made in the image of God.”
“The question that many people ask is: ‘Is there an appetite in the market for people to pay more for their cleaning?’”Clean for Good’s business manager, Catherine Pearson, says. “I would say, yes. Few people ask to move on our prices. . . They want to do the right thing.”
While many clients are churches and charities, the corporate sector has potential, she reports. Companies have big corporate social-responsibility programmes: “The thing I want to challenge them on is the way that they do business — not just in the way they give away their profits, but looking at their supply chains. That is a way they can make a difference, and a sustainable difference.”
She describes cleaners as a “hidden workforce. They come in late at night or early in the morning. They are relatively faceless to organisations. . . It is about ignorance rather than a morally conscious decision to pay low wages.”
Clean for Good is tackling this through its campaign “Who is my cleaner?”, which challenges employers to find out about the pay and conditions of this workforce. An Assistant Curate of Christ Church, Highbury, the Revd Liz Clutterbuck, learned that the church’s cleaner was being paid below the Living Wage. The cleaner is now in the process of being recruited to Clean for Good, where she will be paid the Living Wage.
Low wages mean that “life is miserable”, Ms Venckuviene says. She is aware of several families’ having to live in one house, perhaps even one room: “They cannot afford normal life. To survive they need to work long, long hours every day.”
One of the newest recruits at Clean for Good, Florentina Maria Cretu, had been working 72 hours a week in a chicken shop, earning £50 a day, without a contract. She is now working fewer hours for the same money. In addition, she is studying for a business-management qualification at college.
“I was tired all the time,” she recalls. Asked about what is different about Clean for Good she replies: “It is about who you work with; what people are around you. And it is not too much stress. This is important.”