The performance of a cleaning contract for public buildings in East Sussex has been branded an ‘absolute disgrace’ by union leaders.
East Sussex County Council awarded the contract to private company Nviro in April for schools, libraries and other authority-owned buildings.
GMB, the union representing cleaning staff, has this week called on the firm to have its contract removed and employees to be brought in-house to work directly for the county council.
Staff previously working on Churchill Cleaning’s contract with the council were transferred to Nviro, but the union says that ever since staff and users have had to deal with repeated issues.
The GMB claims there are problems relating to pay, a failure at some schools to provide basic cleaning services and in some cases a lack of basic equipment and supplies for staff to do their jobs properly.
In response Nviro said it was ‘dedicated to putting these issues right’ and was ‘truly saddened and sorry’ its East Sussex staff have been experiencing issues.
Lib Whitfield, GMB regional organiser, described the performance of the contract as an ‘absolute disgrace’.
She added, “We are now calling on the council to remove Nviro from this contract and bring the cleaning contract back into the councils own remit.”
She says they have been approached by not only GMB members but business managers and headteachers who have raised concerns about the cleaning services.
Ms Whitfield added: “Low paid workers are being forced into poverty by their failure to correctly pay their staff and their solution to this problem so far has been simply to ask staff to email them if there are pay issues.
“No Nviro senior manager has at any point deemed it necessary to even meet with the staff to resolve hear the devastation that this is causing them nor to resolve matters face to face. A number of staff have been suffering pay issues for months on end with little resolution in sight.”
A council spokesman said, “A contract was awarded to Nviro on April 1 this year to provide cleaning services to schools and council buildings, following a comprehensive procurement process.
“We are aware of a number of concerns expressed by staff employed by Nviro, and raised with us by colleagues in the unions, and we are contract managing Nviro to ensure all issues are addressed. We have set clear performance timeframes for Nviro to resolve matters.
“We are regularly meeting with the company to ensure the high standards that we, our staff and schools expect are met. We will continue to update the unions on progress and ongoing actions.”
Nviro has sent a statement in response to the GMB’s comments responding directly to staff.
Nviro’s statement said: “We want to emphasise to any of our employees reading this that our people are the most important thing to us and we are truly saddened and sorry that some of you working in East Sussex have experienced issues.
“We are committed to looking after our people, paying people correctly and developing our employees and are dedicated to putting these issues right.
“Paying people the right wage is something that Nviro prides itself on, with our frontline employees in East Sussex seeing a 13 per cent pay increase from minimum wage to the real living wage or above when they transferred from Churchill Cleaning to Nviro.
“We are gutted that some of you have experienced incorrect pay due to operational errors, and are working very hard to rectify any individual pay queries swiftly.
“We are working in a very open, close and collaborative basis with the GMB, Unison, council, building users and our employees, and this press release obviously saddens us that all the hard work and focus our people are doing to turn this around is being seen in such a negative light.”