Who said you are a terrible stream

Entrepreneur about cleaning as a job: "It was a terrible deal"

The end of underpayment and temporary work: Verena Schneider founded the Besserwischer to offer cleaning staff fair jobs.

Wants to get cleaning staff out of invisibility: Verena Schneider, founder of the Besserwischer Photo: Miguel Ferraz

taz: Why is the handling of cleaning staff so uptight, Ms. Schneider?

Verena Schneider: I think a lot of people feel uncomfortable when others clean for them. Be it in the office or at home - you don't want to meet them. I think many are aware that people make very little money and do dirty work that other people don't want to do.

It should be different for your clients because the employees get fair wages.

We only have two employees who work for private clients. The way they deal with them is clearly different; they have become friends with many customers. In the offices, my people themselves often don't like it when there are still a lot of people there - simply because they want to work in peace and don't always have to say: "Can you clear the table here?"

Was it important for you that clients and the cleaning staff who work for them meet once?

I tend to offer this to my people so that their working hours are not too early or too late. I tell them, start at 5 p.m., that's okay for customers, but many don't want that. And then again I don't want to impose on my people, please go introduce yourself. Some customers want that.

Spontaneously one would think: Fairly paid cleaning staff, that is incredibly obvious, there should be tons of such companies - but it doesn't.

I pay more than the collective wage and, above all, I say that too. And what I now find even more important: We have no temporary contracts, no loan contracts, the people are permanently employed. An employee was just with me and asked: “I've been with you for a year. Is that over now? ”I asked:“ How did you get the idea? It's all great. ”“ Because my husband says the contracts are always limited in time. ”It is quite often the case that people in large companies only get fixed-term contracts for years, and every year they are totally nervous about whether they get a contract again - that wasn't so clear to me.

What does “more than the collective wage” mean in concrete terms?

46, founded the Hamburg cleaning company Besserwischer eleven years ago, which pays its employees fair wages.

The collective wage is just 11.07 euros and we pay 11.50 euros when we join. Actually, I wanted to go for at least 12 euros this year, but Corona has also shaken us, so we have to wait a bit.

Actually you can't get old in this job, at some point your back doesn't want anymore, your knees.

Many do not speak German well enough to have a different perspective or have no education. It is true that it is not necessarily for old age. In the beginning, I actually only had students on notices at the university, and I always said: “Be aware, it's really tough.” - “Yes, yes, I can, I can.” But a lot then couldn't.

What kind of people are they working for you now?

When I started, I posted an ad with Stellenwerk: We're new, we want to try that, it's fair and green. Other people are sure to apply, as if you were to say: “This is the Hanseclean company, we still need people to clean the school.” It's very mixed, from all possible countries, all possible age groups. Most of them are not Germans.

Are there employees who clean because they like the job - and not because they don't have better alternatives?

One of my long-term employees says: “I have my peace and quiet, I can listen to my music, I can organize it relatively freely. I'm a bit sociophobic, that's great for me. ”Another says:“ I really like cleaning. ”Otherwise it's just a job and I don't know how many people you should ask:“ Is that your fulfillment? ”

Have you ever worked as a cleaner yourself?

When we were a student, we cleaned a huge advertising agency in the Speicherstadt in Hamburg and they got a few cash on hand. Once a friend of mine met an ex-fellow student there who was meanwhile an advertiser. That was very funny: He said: “Oah, what are you doing here?” And she: “Oah, what are you doing here? Oh god, you became a recruiter. "

For a long time one said “cleaning lady”, now one says “cleaning power” as if the “cleaning lady” were defamatory.

This is where the deadlock begins. Cleaning staff, cleaning specialist, pearl. For me it's just my co-workers. I experience it this way: When I get to know people and say I have a cleaning company, they ask again and then some people think it's great and some people lose their mouths. “That's not fancy at all,” a customer once said to me.

And what do the cleaning staff say themselves?

Differently. Most say that they work at Besserwischer, that sounds better than “I'm a cleaning lady”. Some say for fun: "I'm just the plasterer."

The left is your customer, the Greens - that is, the politically correct?

That fits well, of course. But we also have advertising agencies that have been very nice customers for years.

On your website you write that it is possible to pay fair wages - as an entrepreneur you just shouldn't be too greedy.

I think that is so. The margins in building cleaning go from to. I ask customers what they paid beforehand and sometimes I would make lower prices because I thought it was a total rip-off. And at the same time, they set aside half an hour of work for 400 square meters. At other companies you have a single-family house after ten years, I don't have one.

When did you get the idea of ​​becoming such a non-greedy entrepreneur?

I had set up a call center in a company, and my bosses came up to me and said: “8.50 euros, that's way too much, they only make calls.” Then I went to a small market research company, which was also about Corporate social responsibility. Then I received unemployment benefits and was able to apply for the start-up grant. But even before that, when I was studying geography and sociology, it was often about immigrant and unjust working environments.

A completely different company could theoretically have been fair and green. Why was it cleaning?

It was a bit of a coincidence, partly because I had cleaned myself, partly because there was no admission requirement. I couldn't have opened a carpenter's shop. And: When I was working in the office, I met the people who cleaned there and found that it was a terrible deal with each other. This "quickly away" from both sides. I thought that should be brought to light.

As an outsider, you have such a naive idea that cleaning in private households must be interesting because you step into a different life, scenes of stories that you can imagine.

In fact, many of my employees do not want to go into private apartments because it is too intimate for them; they prefer to work in offices. I also don't like to offer it anymore because it's often too detailed and emotional.

In what way?

Sometimes there are unfulfillable wishes. One customer is upset that her toilet paper is folded like it was in the hotel. She comes home and feels like she is in a hotel, she can't stand it. The next one says: “That's great, I feel like I'm in a hotel.” That's the funny thing about cleaning, even in an open-plan office: Here even the smallest stain is complained about and at the same time someone says: It's just cleaning. When it comes to cutting bills, they say: It only takes five minutes to clean a vacuum cleaner somewhere.

The precarious situation of cleaning workers, be it in companies or as illegal workers, has long been known - but nothing really is happening.

I find that difficult even in my own circle of friends. Undeclared work is justified in certain situations when the undocumented people are here and otherwise cannot work. It becomes difficult when the client says: “We pay twelve euros an hour, that's great.” But when the person is sick or wants to have time off, I have often heard: “Why should we pay, she comes yes not. "