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Photo: Yuya Tamai/Wikimedia Commons.

“An Invisible Group of Foreigners Who Clean Up After Us”

Cleaning staff in Iceland face too much strain and their working conditions are unacceptable, according to Director of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (Starfsgreinasamband, or SGS) Flosi Eiríksson. Cleaning is increasingly outsourced by businesses, which puts cleaning workers at risk of isolation, Flosi says. SGS is preparing for collective agreement negotiations later this year, and plans to emphasise improving working conditions for cleaners.

Flosi says that the last collective agreement included a review of the working speed and environment of cleaners, but that the review was never carried out. SGS contacted the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlitið), who discovered that cleaners face excessive strain at work. “They were expected to work much too fast, that led to musculoskeletal problems, sick leave, and so on and so forth.”

While in the past, cleaners were employed by the businesses and institutions where they worked, now they tend to be employed by large cleaning companies that are hired by businesses. Before this shift occurred, many people worked part-time as cleaners, after work or school. Now many are working as cleaners full time. The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health confirmed that cleaners’ working conditions are equivalent to walking 10 kilometres per hour, each hour they work, which Flosi called “unacceptable.”

“Invisible group of foreigners”

With cleaning services increasingly outsourced, there is a greater risk that cleaners will be isolated at their workplace. “You are specially marked, you don’t have coffee with other employees, you probably don’t get the staff Christmas present, you don’t go to the staff party, and so on,” Flosi stated. “Sometimes we don’t see those people. Here in the capital area, they’re probably 80-90% people of foreign origin. Maybe we’re, in some sense, creating a tiny invisible group of foreigners who clean up after us.” Flosi also pointed out that by outsourcing cleaning services, government institutions are no longer taking part in collective agreement negotiations for cleaning employees.

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