Pragmatic and cost conscious, allergic to red tape and formalism: Tarik Uçar fights for every pension euro in his role as executive director of the cleaning industry pension fund. And for more social decency: “People often don’t even greet cleaners.”
Tarik Uçar is actually more than just a pension fund director, he is also an employer in the cleaning industry. For three hours every week, he has a maid clean his house. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, he continued to pay her as normal. Later, he heard that he was the only one of her employers to do so. “She lost most of her income virtually overnight, putting her in acute financial problems. What possesses these people not to continue to pay her?” he says outraged.
The lack of social decency and the collective disdain for people in the cleaning industry, that’s what he intends to help change. As well as ensure a good pension for the members of the pension fund he is a director of, the pension fund for the cleaning and window cleaning industry (BPF Schoonmaak). Among the pension fund’s 529,000 (former) members and pensioners, there are many migrants, a vulnerable group in society. “They are only vulnerable financially, they are otherwise actually very strong people,” says Uçar, who is of Turkish descent himself, to add some nuance.
First of all, how has the Covid-19 crisis affected the cleaning industry?
“Hospitals and schools need extra cleaners, while hotels, bars, and restaurants need fewer. Cleaners in the hospitality industry working on an on-call contract then have zero income and, consequently, no contributions toward their retirement pension either. For employers in the cleaning business who serve industries such as hospitality, it’s also sink or swim. That’s why it’s so good that the government has stepped in, because the industry cannot do it on its own. Looking at my own household help, self-employed cleaners are also bound to struggle.
The vaccination rate among the migrant population is below the average in the Netherlands.
“Vaccination issues are not within our remit as a pension fund. Research shows, however, that our members are generally hit hard by Covid-19. Over the past year, a considerably larger number of cleaners died than in pre-pandemic years. Excess mortality in the cleaning industry is higher than in the rest of the Netherlands.”
Should cleaners be able to retire earlier than at age 67?
“Occupational disability levels are high and grave in this industry, with rates of between 80 and 100 percent. Cleaning simply is very strenuous work. It is, therefore, an illusion to think that you can do this job full time from age 20 to age 67. In fact, you cannot expect full-time cleaners to work more than forty years.”
But then you would have to pay them a retirement pension over more years...
“At present, many cleaners become unfit for work well before they reach retirement age, and that also costs money. And their life expectancy is shorter. As a society, we should increase sustainable employability in strenuous professions such as cleaning, so that more people can work through to retirement age. You could, for example, cut the hours that older cleaners work, increase training, and work smarter by using new technology. One example of the latter are the sensors that can be used in cleaning to tell us whether a toilet needs cleaning, and if so, when. Robotization can also help make cleaning work less strenuous.”