This objective value of the contract cleaning industry is not always matched by the subjective value that the industry’s customers attach to the widely diverse and increasingly professional cleaning services that have evolved over the last 60 years.

The contract cleaning sector has already been clearly distinguished from the Temporary Employment Sector via Sectoral Determination No. 1 for the contract cleaning sector and relevant labour court cases concerning the contract cleaning sector. It has a mature relationship with organised labour, cemented by many years of wage negotiations, joint trusteeship on the Provident Fund Board, and interactions with the Department of Employment and Labour, CCMA Management and the International Labour Organisation. The contract cleaning sector, therefore, has a distinct, professional image regarding its labour practices, as well as an increasingly professional image in relation to its use of cleaning technology. The missing piece of the puzzle, in my view, is the institutional capacity of the industry to regulate itself in a way which promotes the subjective value that customers attach to the services. Ultimately, if the capacity to self-regulate is increased, there should be a closer correlation between customers’ cleaning budgets and the objective, additional value that professional cleaning brings to their business activities. As things currently stand, the contract cleaning sector is subject to wage increases which are determined by an external source, in the form of the Minister of Employment and Labour, and cleaning companies are often faced with difficult situations when negotiating prices and frequency of cleaning activities due to non-market related increases in labour costs.

A National Bargaining Council would play an important part in enabling the contract cleaning industry to regulate its own labour costs, based on industry knowledge and mature relationships with the unions. It would also raise the public profile of the industry, with all parties having a permanent base, under one roof, to promote their common interest in a sustainable industry.

The Bargaining Council for the Contract Cleaning Industry (BCCCI) in KwaZulu- Natal is a clear example of how the industry can achieve self-regulation and enhance its profile. Application will, therefore, be made to the Registrar of the Department of Employment and Labour, in terms of Section 29 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) to have other parts of South Africa covered by a bargaining council arrangement. It would be up to the Registrar to determine the geographical areas in respect of which the application is competent and sufficiently representative in terms of the number of employees who are employed by member companies of the various employer associations, as well as union membership numbers.

Once the bargaining council footprint is expanded, whether by extension of the KwaZulu-Natal Bargaining Council or by implementation of a separate council structure, the cleaning industry will be able to establish and conclude collective agreements and enforce these agreements. The wages and conditions of employment would be aligned with the long-term interests of the industry and not simply adjusted in line with other sectors. It should also be noted that certain bargaining councils do perform dispute resolution functions and a potential long-term goal would be to explore the possibility of performing dispute resolution functions at the bargaining council rather than the CCMA. This would mean that any dispute resolution process would involve people with expert knowledge of the contract cleaning sector. It would also be easier, if all parties meet regularly at a council venue, to submit joint proposals on policies and laws that govern the cleaning industry.

In summary, the South African professional contract cleaning industry has proven itself over the past sixty years to be a valuable, responsible, reliable, and increasingly efficient and technologically advanced business partner to its customers. Its capacity has increased significantly through dedicated interaction with its suppliers in the areas of biometrics, green chemicals, energy-efficient equipment, staff utilisation and ergonomics and it is now time to increase its self-regulating capacity in the area of cleaning staff costs. The closer input costs are aligned with the value attached by customers to cleaning solutions, the less likelihood there is of customers cutting down on cleaning staff numbers, frequencies and technological advancements.