Press Release: Research finds gaps in the oversight of front-line workers’ rights in commercial real estate during the COVID-19 pandemic

Canadian Capital Stewardship Network (CCSN) report shows some commercial property cleaners are overworked, underpaid and under protected, despite responsible investment policies from building owners and real estate managers.

Vancouver, BC, November 10, 2020– Cleaners and security staff play a critical role in protecting public health and safety in commercial buildings, a responsibility made more visible throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Despite this vital role, property service workers are too often subjected to substandard working conditions and are not provided the protections needed in the pandemic.

Pension funds, which manage the collective retirement savings of Canadian workers, are significant players in Canada’s commercial real estate market with 10 of the largest pension funds collectively allocating $220 billion or 13.2% of their total portfolios to real estate.

New research by the Canadian Capital Stewardship Network (CCSN) has found that although labour conditions and workers’ rights are mentioned in the responsible investment policies at the majority of pension funds surveyed, there are gaps in the oversight of workplace practices and health and safety protections for employees and contractors working in commercial properties that make up pension fund real estate portfolios.

“Protecting Our Most Valuable Assets: Investor Oversight of Responsible Real Estate Standards in the Context of COVID-19” reports that 80% of cleaners in non-unionized buildings do nothave access to adequate paid sick days.

At the same time, the report finds that 66% of non-unionized workers and 49% of unionized workers say that they are experiencing an increase in workload as a result of COVID-19, but only 30% of non-unionized workers and 36% of unionized workers noted that their employers have hired additional staff to meet the requirements of new cleaning regimes.

“It must be a priority to provide adequate protections to cleaners and security staff including immediate access to paid sick leave if we want to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in commercial properties,” said BCGEU Treasurer, Paul Finch. “Taking such steps to protect property service workers also ensures that pension funds are protecting the value of their real estate assets including safeguarding the stable income streams that are expected from these portfolios.”

Of the funds surveyed in the report, most referenced a commitment to uphold labour rights in their responsible investment policies. However, only two funds have taken the extra step to formalize their support of decent working conditions for contractors and their subcontractors through a Responsible Contractor Policy or a Responsible Procurement Policy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the critical need for pension funds that own, invest in, and operate real estate to have clear and proactive policy frameworks that communicate expectations down the property service supply chain to property managers and other intermediaries on the protection of workers’ human rights and decent work standards,” said Shannon Rohan, Chief Strategy Officer at SHARE. “We are hopeful that Canadian pension funds will work with the CCSN to develop these kinds of policies going forward.”

For more information:

Media contact:

Shalini Ramgoolam, Researcher, Canadian Capital Stewardship Network (CCSN)/ Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) Responsible Investment Leadership
sramgoolam@share.ca

Tamara Herman, Senior Program Officer, Canadian Capital Stewardship Network (CCSN)/ Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) Responsible Investment Leadership
therman@share.ca