On Demand Service Providers in the Domestic Housekeeping Sector

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I recently came across an article in the Guardian about working in the On Demand economy. For those who are not aware, the On Demand economy is defined as ‘the economic activity created by digital marketplaces that fulfil consumer demand via immediate access to and convenient provisioning of goods and services’. A good example of this is Uber, the Taxi firm. Users download an app to their smartphone or tablet which they can then use to hire a cab. You can now get an app for many such On Demand services and on the surface, it seems like a great idea for our modern, hi-tech instant access lives. However, as the article suggests, this service model does have its issues, particularly in the domestic housekeeping and cleaning sector.

An ex-customer services representative for an On Demand odd-job app exposed some potentially serious issues with this type of operation.

The cleaners are classified as self-employed to save costs for the company and the customer, but many customers were not aware of this and the implications that could arise.” In this instance, the customer is required to pay in advance, but I got the impression reading the article that one common problem was that cleaners simply did not turn up to perform the pre-paid visit. The company ended up having to fine cleaners who were not turning up for work.

Another issue highlighted was that cleaners would sometimes phone the office, reporting disturbing verbal abuse or incidents that were making the cleaners very uncomfortable. This story is seriously concerning, especially for an industry that runs almost exclusively on field-based staff. “Occasionally we would blacklist customers,” the representative said. “There was one case that was really bad – the husband was being weird with the cleaner, staring at her and following her round, trying to touch her. Obviously we told her not to go back but he started calling her. We had to ring him and tell him to stop.” The representative concluded her report by describing how the service model had ultimately failed. “When I started, there were 30 people in my team, but it slowly crumbled. Then a week before Christmas, they sacked almost everyone. I think they have streamlined everything and there are only four people on the team now.”

There is no doubt that for some service industries, On Demand offers a popular dimension in modern times. But this one story highlights that such a solution is fraught with pitfalls and potentially disturbing issues for professional housekeeping and home cleaning.

Here at Email Mum Limited, we have been delivering professional housekeeping services for over ten years and in that time, have come across many service and employment issues. At the heart of most of these is the “agency” business model, where the cleaner is self-employed. Service providers find this model attractive as it allows them to sidestep many of the responsibilities of employment, such as adequate training and insurances. But it is our belief that this impairs the ability to provide a trustworthy, reliable service and negates the duty of care to both client and cleaner/housekeeper, which is why we run a managed service with fully insured, protected employees and lots of happy clients!

What do you think?