Cleaning up the Railways

Cleaning up the Railways

26 June 2021

RMT Press Office:

As rail industry announces inquiry into whether to end outsourcing of train and station cleaning new report reveals cleaners don’t have enough staff to do jobs properly and ending outsourcing would improve standards.

Almost half the cleaners working on Britain’s rail network believe they don’t have enough staff to do their jobs properly whilst a majority say that their employers put profits before public health and passengers would benefit more if cleaners were employed in-house rather than being outsourced, according to a new report published by RMT today.

The report also found that following a survey of train companies outsourcing means rail bosses don’t know, or won’t say, how many cleaners are employed on the railway.

The report was released following the announcement by the rail industry that it is reviewing whether to end the outsourcing of cleaning and as RMT rail cleaners from around the country meet at their annual conference to demand an end to the privatisation of cleaning and better treatment of cleaning staff who have been essential workers during the pandemic. The cleaners will also be taking their message to Parliament as 12pm on 20th July.

The Mayor of London is also undertaking a review as to whether to take London Underground cleaning in–house.

In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the railway industry has been on a PR offensive over its cleaning regimes recently, recognising that addressing concerns over cleanliness and hygiene will be central to attracting passengers back to the railway. But RMT’s report ‘Cleaning Up the Railways’ reveals the dirty truth behind the publicity, that effective cleaning is hampered by an outdated and dogmatic attachment to outsourcing which leads to cost-cutting in the search for profits.

Research in the NHS and US hospital systems has shown that outsourced cleaning produces worse public health outcomes because outsourcing companies seek to cut costs and produce profits by holding down cleaners pay and cutting jobs and RMT’s report raises major concerns about the use of outsourced cleaning on the railways.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said:

“If we want passengers to have the confidence to use our trains, we need to take back control of cleaning. Behind the glossy PR saying how seriously the rail industry is taking cleaning, the cleaners themselves are saying loudly and clearly that there are not enough cleaning staff, that profit is being put before safety and that the Covid–19 pandemic has shown more than ever that it is time to end the dogmatic and outdated outsourcing of cleaning which means even rail bosses don’t know how many cleaners are employed.

“We can’t leave this essential service in the hands of cut-price profiteers who seek to turn a buck by exploiting people who are going to be at the heart of our industry’s future. The Rail Industry and London Mayor know there’s a problem which is why they have agreed to undertake their reviews. They have the chance to turn the page on this sorry episode and I’m calling on them to show that they value passengers as much as profit by putting an end to outsourcing now.”


Notes to Editors
  1. Research into passenger attitudes has consistently shown that people want a higher standard of cleanliness on the railways. In May this year, Transport Focus reported: “All our insight now suggests greater levels of concern about cleanliness are likely to persist well beyond the pandemic – with a cultural shift towards greater care over hygiene and health. Passengers do not want to see the standard of cleanliness slip for the foreseeable future.” Transport Focus Public transport: a cleaner future? May 2021.
  1. RMT’s report ‘Cleaning Up the Railways: Why a safe railway must mean the end of outsourced cleaning’ is being launched today at the union’s conference of cleaning grades workers. It is the first report into outsourced cleaning on Britain’s railway. The detailed report can be downloaded at 
The report found that:
  • Cleaning is almost entirely outsourced on Britain’s railways with both train operating companies and Network Rail contracting out cleaning.
  • Almost half the cleaners working on the network don’t think they have enough staff to do their jobs properly.
  • Outsourcing means Train Operating Companies don’t know or won’t say how many cleaners are working on their lines
  • Cleaners say employers put profits before public health and believe that passengers would benefit from insourcing
  • One third of cleaners said that the number of cleaners had fallen in the last three years while one in five reported they had fallen since the pandemic broke.
  • In spite of the essential and dangerous nature of their work, cleaners are still low paid and poorly treated, being paid on or around the National Minimum Wage and lacking sick pay. 
  1. The Rail Industry Recovery Group’s Enabling Framework Agreement commits the industry to “carry out a review and benchmarking exercise to include the full employment costs of cleaning and catering contracts to determine whether it is better to bring these contracts in house, recognising that insourcing could require new pay structures and work design. We will share and discuss the results of this analysis, subject to our ability to share sensitive commercial information.”
  1. The Mayor of London has also announced a review of outsourcing on the Underground. RMTs previously released report ‘Dirty Work’ can be found here:

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Tagged with: Cleaners, Outsourcing, Justice for Cleaners