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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
A recent television programme entitled “The Secret Life of an Office Cleaner” was screened in the UK on Monday 19 September 2005 (BBC2). It highlighted the plight of many employees in the office cleaning industry. It presented a bleak and depressing picture of exploitation, particularly of foreign workers employed in London. In the words of the narrator “cleaners doing our dirty work are increasingly living in a secret world of abuse, intimidation and illegality”.
London alone now has an estimated 250,000 immigrant cleaners. An industry that was once dominated by white working class women is reliant on cheap foreign labour.
The programme described the predicament of a Ghanaian called Thomas who works a 75 hour week.
On the day of the London bombings, he followed police advice to stay at home. His supervisor subsequently gave him a “punishment” of just cleaning toilets – 72 a night in the central London office block where he works. When he complained of back ache, his supervisor ordered him home without sick pay.
The competition for lower costs has led to the increasing use of illegal immigrants in cleaning jobs. Their precarious predicament has made them vulnerable to exploitation by cleaning contractors who are often several steps removed from the facilities manager in the supply chain.
The question from the research perspective is whether our focus on benchmarking and performance measurement is blinding us to such phenomenon, be it in the cleaning, security or maintenance arena? Our figures often fail to tell the whole story and the simple desire to achieve targets is often exacerbating the problem. As the name of the journal Facilities suggests, the nature of research papers covered in the journal is not limited to “management”. Based on the evidence of the BBC programme, there appears to be an urgent need for more research that takes an empathetic view based on sociological, human-relations and political perspectives.