Inspections reveal disregard for health and safety of domestic cleaners

Inspections reveal disregard for health and safety of domestic cleaners
Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga.

The system of service vouchers, which are used to pay domestic cleaners in Belgium, has come under scrutiny for the lack of protections they provide workers. Throughout 2022, over 1,000 welfare breaches were reported during inspections at 175 of the sector's companies.

In routine inspections, the Directorate General of Supervision of Well-being at Work found a total of 1,172 instances of inadequate care being paid for the welfare of these employees. Over two-thirds of the investigated employers had failed to provide risk assessments for the use of chemical agents.

A further third of the audited firms had not even offered the appropriate training to these cleaners – an oversight which may go some way in explaining the record number of cleaning-related accidents and poisonings during the pandemic.

Inspectors also found that cleaning agencies had not monitored the health of their employees and provided little workplace health surveillance.

Finally, one in four of these companies failed to provide their staff with personal safety equipment such as cleaning and anti-slip gloves.

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As a result, Belgium's Employment Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne has reminded service voucher companies of their responsibility "to comply with welfare regulations." Especially given that domestic cleaners are faced with "the risk of exposure to chemicals and a high risk of musculoskeletal problems."

The minister has stated that more will be done to ensure that "regulations are properly followed"; a new inspection campaign will be launched to make it more efficient to report violations. Dermagne will also consult the regional ministers in charge of the service voucher sector, as well as their social partners, for their suggestions on how best to improve the situation.

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