Workers in the cleaning industry often speak about being invisible, and being the lowest of the low. They are often undervalued, seen as unqualified, and are traditionally poorly paid.
Wellington and Auckland based professional cleaning business, Fresh Desk, has a social purpose and is helping to change all this.
According to Fresh Desk Operations Manager, Nicole Oxenbridge, “Our ethos is about dignity and respect. We want to make cleaning a valued and respected profession by paying staff a living wage, giving them wraparound support, and seeking out opportunities for learning and development.
“Cleaning is hard physical work and requires experience, meticulous attention to detail as well as knowing the correct way to do things in order to achieve high-quality results. Unfortunately, the value of this service is still typically overlooked.”
Fresh Desk is currently the only fully accredited living wage cleaning company in New Zealand, and has been paying the living wage to its cleaners since it was established in 2014.
When it comes to learning and development, Fresh Desk partners with industry training organisation Careerforce. With the support of Careerforce, Fresh Desk helps its staff members gain NZQA qualifications for professional development. It also helps to improve language skills for those who have English as a second language.
Nicole, a qualified trainer and assessor says “When someone new joins the organisation, we put them through the New Zealand Certificate in Cleaning Level 2 qualification, and if they want to progress, we then put them through level 3. It gives the cleaners an opportunity if they haven’t already, to get a qualification and it also keeps the cleaning to a consistently high standard. And cleaners feel more confident in the job they are doing.
“The pandemic has highlighted the essential role that cleaners play in our society. Hygiene and cleanliness have been brought to the forefront, and it’s been especially important with COVID-19, that staff know how to correctly do a deep clean, that they are meeting the right hygiene standards and practices and that staff know what chemicals to use, and the correct use of PPE.
“If staff have the initiative, and they show the willingness, then career progression is available. If a person can show that they can do the work, then they can progress forward with the company. One of our staff members has a disability. They completed a cleaning qualification and are now in a supervisory role responsible for rostering, quality audits and the like and jumps in to help out with cleaning when we are short staffed.”
According to Nicole, cleaners who don’t have any tertiary qualifications often feel excited to enrol in the Level 2 qualification, especially because it’s a nationally recognized NZQA approved.
“One of our cleaners likes to take on board whatever she can, but her English is not that good. She is amazing with her training, and we have put her through the level 3. As long as we give her some support around literacy, then she does really well.
“Careerforce has supported us with assessing literacy. It has been quite an eye opener when we had people whose first language was Tamil. It was particularly important to give them support to improve their English, and to help them understand the emergency signs and procedures.
“We’re a values-driven team and we’ve found that by doing the right thing by our team, they do the right thing by our customers,” says Nicole.
“We work with a wide range of organisations who value their people and the communities they represent. We want to encourage large cleaning companies to come on board with the living wage as well because it makes business sense and helps to build a fairer community.”
More information about qualifications for cleaners: