Worker engagement is a critical element of CAF’s Certification model. This year, we welcomed Jennifer (Jen) to our team as a Worker Engagement Officer. Jen has been instrumental in cultivating relationships with cleaners at CAF-Certified buildings. Given her background as both a migrant worker, having immigrated from Columbia, as well as a cleaner and CAF Representative (CAF Rep) at a CAF-Certified site, Jen can relate to cleaners and the challenges they face at work. In a recent interview, Jen discussed how she’s settling into the new role and the challengers cleaners come to her with.
What sort of issues come up in worker engagement meetings? The issues cleaners bring up the most are: underpayment, insufficient training, like training on how to use certain chemicals, which pose a real threat to cleaners’ safety, and heavy workloads. One common workload issue that cleaners bring up is not being provided with a detailed job description. Without this, cleaners are often left in the dark about the tasks they are expected to perform, and the time expectation for each task. As a result, they frequently end up burdened with additional unplanned tasks, making their workload unsustainable. Another prevalent problem, especially during the past winter, was the absence of proper uniforms, especially for outdoor cleaners. Many cleaners, despite working in cold conditions, lack essential items like jackets in their uniform. I know from experience, having worked as a cleaner in Melbourne, it can get really cold and windy when working outdoors.
How do you help cleaners to open up about issues in your role as Worker Engagement Officer? I like to start conversations by sharing my own experiences. I think it’s different to an auditor going into a site with no lived experience saying “OK, I’m here to see if you have something to say to me”. I try to be friendly and tell them that I was once in their place. It helps them to feel more comfortable to speak up about issues. And when a room is a bit quiet, I just mention issues from different sites, saying “Have you come across this? Because I remember once at another place a similar thing happened.” They just start to open up and relate and think, OK, it’s not just here.
How important is it to meet the cleaners face to face? It’s much better than online. Meeting cleaners face-to-face, they feel like they’re important and that their thoughts and opinions are valued. When you send an email or a survey, well, sometimes cleaners don’t understand and they don’t speak up. But at worker engagement meetings, I meet with them in-person, and they have many questions. Also, it helps that we can answer their questions straight away, and not have to wait a long time to see if we get an answer or not. So, the connection is much better.
Do you think language can be a barrier at worker engagement meetings? Yeah, it’s difficult. It’s very, very difficult. It’s often why cleaners feel intimidated to speak up. They think, “Maybe I’m not being clear or not communicating what I want to say properly”. So, when, worker engagement is in their own language, well, it’s very different. I speak Spanish, which is one of the main language spoken by cleaners at CAF-Certified sites and Pritika (CAF Worker Engagement Manager) speaks Nepali, which is another commonly-spoken language at CAF-Certified sites. We get so many insights from cleaners when they speak in their own language to us.
How do you find your role fits in with the wider Certification Team at CAF? Pritika and I work closely with the cleaning team at CAF-Certified buildings. We know firsthand what the environment is like on-site because we regularly talk with cleaners. We write down cleaners’ issues in the compliance register, including all notes and findings from meetings. When a Compliance Officer needs to verify that something is happening, they reach out to me or Pritika. Based on the information provided by the cleaner, it can give us clues as to what’s happening at the site.
How important do you think the CAF Reps are to the worker engagement process? CAF Reps are a vital part of the worker engagement process. It’s difficult to reach cleaners one by one. So, especially when the CAF Rep has a good engagement with the team, it makes our job easier. I think we need to keep working at ways to improve engagement with CAF Reps. I know that we have the WhatsApp group, but not all of our CAF Reps feel confident to speak up in the group. One of my goals for next year is to meet all the Victorian CAF Reps in person, and work with them more closely.
What do you miss about being a cleaner? I miss the physical nature of working as a cleaner. You just take rest and recover. Also, most of the cleaners I worked with were from Colombia like me, so I miss that sense of community. But I wouldn’t change the job I have now. I really enjoy making a positive impact to the lives of cleaners in my role as a Worker Engagement Officer at CAF.
Jen is a Worker Engagement Officer at CAF. With previous experience working both as a cleaner and a CAF Representative at a CAF-Certified building, Jen is well-versed in empowering cleaners to raise issues at their workplace. For inquiries regarding worker engagement, please reach out to Jen via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.