Cllr Alan Hall has joined campaigners and trade unionists calling on better terms and conditions in schools particularly for cleaners and catering staff. Now is the time to review pay and conditions and get schools safer for September’s new academic year. In London schools should pay the London Living Wage. He says: “Clean schools are safer schools.”
Some cleaners in English schools are still having to work without protective kit and not given the ‘deep-clean’ training needed to keep people safe, says a survey published on Thursday 23rd July by UNISON.
The trade union is calling on the government to provide schools with money to hire extra cleaners. Figures released by UNISON show that almost three in ten (29%) staff say there has been no increase in cleaning services since many schools reopened at the start of June.
The survey was based on responses from more than 8,000 employees working in primary, nursery and special schools in England. UNISON says the findings are concerning, given schools are preparing to reopen fully in September.
Instead of specialist ‘deep-clean’ teams, regular cleaning staff are expected to carry out this potentially hazardous work, according to nearly two thirds (65%) of school workers.
A fifth (20%) who took part in the survey said cleaners at their school had no access to the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Government guidance states that more rigorous and regular cleansing of classrooms, washrooms and items touched regularly, such as chairs, should be undertaken to limit the infection risk from coronavirus.
UNISON says there is an urgent need for cleaners to be specially trained in how to disinfect buildings properly and handle potentially harmful cleaning materials correctly.
Without it, premises might not meet safety standards and staff could be put in danger if asked to use products without knowing the hazards, says the union.
Of the survey respondents who said regular cleaning staff were doing deep cleans, more than a quarter (27%) said these workers had not received specialist training on handling hazardous substances* and a similar proportion (26%) said they had not been risk assessed.
Many English schools have not hired more cleaners despite the extra demands created by Covid-19, says UNISON. This means other employees such as teaching assistants are having to help clean toilets and sanitise toys, according to the survey.
Four in five (81%) of those questioned said non-cleaning staff at their school were being asked to clean classrooms and items such as chairs and books. This is time that should be spent helping pupils, says UNISON.
Many school cleaners are employed by private firms, often paying only the minimum wage and statutory sick pay. This can lead to staff continuing to work when ill for fear of financial hardship, says UNISON.
The government must find more money for training school cleaners and increasing their numbers, the union says.
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Cleaning a school properly is a specialist job, yet the workers doing this are often overlooked, underpaid and haven’t been trained for the extra demands.
“Lots more cleaners are needed. Other staff shouldn’t be expected to step in to help out. Teaching assistants are stretched enough as it is. They should be focusing on supporting pupils, not standing in for cleaners.
“Everyone wants to see children back in the classroom, but this must be done safely. Given the extra cleaning needed, the government must give schools the money to employ cleaners with the necessary training and protective kit to keep the whole school safe.”
UNISON school cleaners said in the survey: “The teaching staff are cleaning the desks during the day and the midday supervisory assistants are coming in to empty bins and clean toilets at lunchtime.”
“We’ve been scrubbing floors, walls and deep cleaning, even though we’re not deep cleaning specialists.”
“Out of four cleaners, only two have been at work. The workload has trebled and now we have to split our shifts to ensure a cleaner is on site all day.”
“Due to the sheer quantity being used, I’m struggling to replace hand soap. I’ve never run out before in my career as a cleaning supervisor. It’s physically and emotionally demanding.”
Letter to the Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP
Dear Gavin Williamson,
Staff employed by private contractors
I am writing as a member of UNISON – the public sector union concerning urgent measures that need to be taken to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 infections in the school during the new school year.
As part of the efforts to fight COVID-19, to avoid a second peak and to reduce the risk of further damaging closures, maximum compliance with self-isolation guidelines by individual employees will be essential in our schools. It is imperative to remove all financial barriers to compliance with self-isolation guidance by ensuring all staff have access to full contractual sick pay and are paid as a minimum the real Living Wage, if they are not already. Therefore, please call on schools to ensure that all contractors e.g. catering, cleaning and building maintenance operate full contractual sick pay schemes and pay the real Living Wage as a minimum in the school, in time for the start of the new school year in September 2020.
The importance of these measures cannot be overstated. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that those care homes which offered full contractual sick pay to their staff carried lower risk of infection to their residents.
Now is the time to review and ensure that schools should seek to apply good standards in all areas of employment practice. Unison recommends that schools should ensure that all contractors give staff at least 5.6 weeks’ leave per year.
Securing these assurances from contractors will help to make our schools a safer place for everyone. I look forward to your response.
Cllr Alan Hall
Member, Local Government Organisation Branch