Key workers need more than applause

26 May 2020

Since the Covid-19 lockdown was introduced, we have witnessed an incredible industry-wide response, writes Sean Haley, Sodexo Regional Chair.

FM and food providers have repeatedly demonstrated the value of our sector by collectively responding quickly and efficiently.  Sodexo and its competitors have played a vital role to set up and operate Covid-19 testing centres and Nightingale hospitals around the country.  It has been a Herculean effort that no one foresaw would be needed, but one which was achieved through partnerships that formed within just days.

We have been able to do this because we are an agile, flexible, diverse, caring industry with experts in catering, cleaning through to fire safety, energy, event management and much more. We have shown that we are more than just service providers. We are strategic partners who can adapt, innovate and work in partnership to get things done.

Our people have met the challenge of providing core services safely into hospitals, barracks, schools, factories, test centres and prisons, to name a few.  They are often working in extremely difficult conditions, on the front line, adapting to meet new demands and challenges – and they are laying the foundations for our national recovery from this crisis.

It has taken this pandemic to thrust these once behind-the-scenes colleagues like cleaners, facilities managers, chefs, porters, prison officers and carers into the spotlight.  Politicians, CEOs and the public now recognise the value of services that meet our basic human needs – safety, security, nourishment and care.

When people across the country have come to their doorsteps on a Thursday evening, they have clapped for these key workers, along with everyone else in the NHS, and with good reason.

And their contribution and our industry won’t stop being important once the crisis is over. Our people stand ready to help us open doors and enable the economic recovery when it is safe to do so.  The expertise held within the FM industry in areas such as cleaning and food safety will be more critical than ever, enabling others to share a physical space with others – and to do this safely.

With the work done by our people being applauded across the land, I would like to call on public and private sector procurement professionals to recognise the value of our cleaners, caterers and other FM staff – and pay them at least the living wage.

Many of our public and private sector clients already do this and Sodexo pays at least the living wage to employees in its head offices.

But the past two months have shown the critical importance of our frontline teams – and this will continue in the months ahead.

As we take tentative steps into a recovery, it would be a lasting achievement if the “new normal” included the ability for companies to bid to deliver these vital services not at the lowest rate, but at a rate that pays everyone at least the living wage.