Desperate cleaners are being forced to put themselves and others at risk of catching Covid-19 due to a lack of financial support, it’s been claimed.
Trade union bosses say that a lack of government support is putting many workers in a perilous position – where they have to balance the risk of catching and spreading the disease, or go without money.
Although government restrictions have banned them from doing so, the Domestic Cleaning Business Network (DCBN) claims that many in the trade have continued to accept jobs because they are in such a desperate situation.
The industry has warned this could lead to a “Typhoid Mary” scenario – where Irish cook Mary Mallon infected 53 families in New York in the early 1900s by moving between their homes while being asymptomatic.
Kelly Fairweather, who runs Dundee-based cleaning business, At Your Service, is also an associate director for the DCBN.
‘They need to put food on the table’
She said that, while the Scottish Government has ordered the industry to stop all work unless absolutely essential, businesses do not qualify for the strategic framework grants.
Kelly said: “The scary thing is that we are now finding that so many people in the industry are now going out to work putting themselves and others at risk.
“I am totally against this as they should not be working, but what are they meant to do? They need to put food on the table and they aren’t getting the support they need.”
“We have even had members crying to us at meetings and we have provided bags of food to them as they have nothing else and aren’t entitled to any other help.”
Kelly and others are calling for the government to step up and offer the same support it has offered other industries.
She added: “We are basically one of these forgotten industries and from what we have worked out we are the only industry to be shut down, but have received no funding at all for a second time.
“The cleaning industry may be forgotten but with every other industry that has been shut down we have been hit too. When holiday lettings were closed, we took a hit. When salons and offices were closed, we took a hit.”
Despite some support being in place, such as the furlough scheme and the self-employed grants, the union says this still does not come close to filling the black hole caused by the shut-down.
Kelly added: “People see the grants and the furlough scheme’s being announced and they think that every business or self-employed person is getting that help but it is not quite as simple as it says on the tin.
“For me to keep my business closed it still costs me over £700 a month. I am genuinely grateful that my staff are looked after and I can furlough them.
“However, there are still costs associated with the furlough scheme and if there is no support for me, and I then can’t afford to pay the payroll and costs of running the business, then I can’t keep their jobs open forever so that’s a really difficult thing.
“We aren’t looking for directors’ wages and no one is asking for handouts of £20,000 or £40,000 but just the support of £3-5000 would help a lot of people breathe a sigh of relief.”
‘Huge health risks’
Krissi Foskett, director of DCBN, added: “How can you close down an industry but then offer them no support?
“As their advisory body, their voice, we absolutely understand the rules and guidelines on domestic cleaning and are repeatedly telling our members that they must stop working for now, to protect the public and themselves.
“However, with no financial help coupled with a fear that they might lose their clients if they stop, many feel they have no option but to continue going into people’s homes. However, there are huge health risks in doing so.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Domestic cleaning is only allowed where they are cleaning a house of a person who is unable, physically or mentally, to do it themselves so in most cases domestic cleaners should not be working.
“We understand how challenging this is for low-paid cleaners, particularly those who have fallen through the cracks between the UK Government’s furlough and self-employment income support schemes.
“People in this difficult situation may be eligible for Universal Credit and we are actively taking steps to fill in the gaps in UK wide schemes. Local Authorities also have individual Discretionary Funds to support local business needs.”