Public procurement as a tool to create value and dignity in work in cleaning and facility services (own-initiative opinion)

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EESC opinion: Public procurement as a tool to create value and dignity in work in cleaning and facility services (own-initiative opinion)

The European Commission’s ‘Green Deal’ proposes to use public procurement as a tool to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Such ‘green public procurement’ is necessary to move toward a carbon-neutral society. However, the Commission omits that public procurement which makes up to 11% of GDP can be a tool for a fairer, more equitable society and can produce sustainable growth. At present, the ‘green public procurement’ and social considerations are discussed in different DGs. An opinion by the EESC-CCMI could bring social and ecological considerations in regards to public procurement together.

The industrial cleaning market is under-going restructuring: The largest services multinational company and employer ISS facilities services, for example, has just announced that it will withdraw from 13 countries including the EU Member States Estonia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania. Other companies are moving up in the value chain into integrated facility services. These changes and their implications require further analysis with the objective of strengthening social partners’ capacity at the EU and national level.

Digitalisation and new technologies are creating opportunities and challenges for low-skilled workers in this sector. Despite several studies indicating that industrial cleaning is one of the occupations most likely to be automated, it remains one of the areas of employment growth, especially for women, migrant workers and those with low skill levels. Yet there is little discussion on how these technologies can be used to create extra value for buyers of cleaning services and improve employment conditions. As a recent ILO-Eurofound study found it is the least-educated who get less access to opportunities to grow and develop their skills. The opinion can be used to strengthen the skills agenda at the European and Member State-level.

The social partners in the EU sectoral social dialogue committee in industrial cleaning have led on the Best Value Guide and the Transfer of Undertaking (Council Directive 2001/23/EC), yet a political and social debate at EU level on the value of the cleaning industry, employees’ rights in the case of transfer of contracts and the role of public procurement are missing. The opinion could potentially inform the European Commission of the need to ensure that the transfer of undertaking is applied in public procurement.

Public procurement can be an important lever to support investments in the real economy, stimulate demand for innovative products, pursue industrial policy objectives, create quality jobs or promote the transition to a resource and energy-efficient circular economy.

However, the Public Procurement Directive is not being utilised to its full potential and there is significant divergence in its application among the Member States. Many purchasing decisions focus on price only. Quality criteria are largely foregone, raising considerable questions of how the biggest buyers of cleaning services (airports, hospitals, railways, universities) value cleaning services and how employees’ rights are guaranteed in the transfer of contract.

To conclude, in light of the revision of the Buying Social Guide and the upcoming revision of the Public Procurement Directive, continued employment growth in the sector and industrial restructuring, this opinion can contribute to evidence-based policy outcomes which can be taken up by the European Commission, the European Parliament and Member States. It is necessary for the European Commission, European Parliament and Member States to develop the necessary supportive tools in order to foster the systematic use of strategic criteria that are sustainable, transparent, ambitious and feasible at the same time.