City cleaners are claiming a landmark victory in their campaign to eliminate bullying and wage theft with one of Australia’s biggest cleaning companies agreeing to stop using dodgy subcontractors who underpay international students.
More than 200 cleaners are today voting on a deal struck with the Glad Group which delivers real pay rises, job security and hope of an end to Melbourne’s history of exploitative working conditions affecting international students.
City cleaners will now turn their focus to Glad’s biggest competitor, Consolidated Property Services, which has so far denied justice to its staff by refusing to sign the new Clean Start Agreement.
This watershed in the campaign for a fair deal coincides with the International Day of Justice for Cleaners. Cleaners are asking city workers to take ‘selfies’ wearing rubber gloves as a gesture of support for those who keep our workplaces safe and clean.
“This is a great win but it’s only the start. We need to convince other cleaning companies to treat cleaners with respect and reward them properly,” says United Voice state secretary Jess Walsh.
“Consolidated Property Services is the biggest single employer of cleaners in the city. Cleaners are essential to this city functioning properly and they deserve more respect than they are getting from Consolidated.
“Consolidated is running dead in negotiations while staff pay has been frozen for two years.”
The Clean Start deal provides above-CPI wage increases and higher pay for night and evening work, and enhanced job security provisions in an industry where short-term employment is pervasive.
Key to the deal, and effective immediately, is Glad’s commitment to ensure that cleaners working for subcontractors receive pay and rights equal to those directly employed. Sub-contracting is at the heart of abuses against international students who are vulnerable to rip-offs, fear and intimidation and who comprise more than half the city’s office cleaners.
While Consolidated refuses constructive talks its workers are caught in a pay freeze and safeguards against subcontracting are not in place. Cleaners protests went ahead outside 2 Lonsdale St, a building cleaned by Consolidated, where the public was asked to take 'selfies' while wearing rubber gloves as a mark of support. ACTU president, Ged Kearney (right), was quick to show her solidarity.
International students and other city office cleaners waged a relentless public campaign demanding the Glad Group support the new Clean Start Agreement. This included 71 rowdy street protests targeting CBD office buildings as well as media and online pressure.
“Our gleaming office towers have hidden from view the cleaning industry’s dirty secret of bullying, intimidation and wage theft,” says Walsh.
“Cut price subcontractors, used by ‘reputable’ cleaning companies, have created toxic workplaces to hide illegally low wages and other abuses.
“Glad is a leading player so its support for these reforms is an important step forward in our battle to rid Melbourne of this exploitation that shames our city and threatens our vital international education industry,” said Walsh.
International Justice Day for Cleaners and Security Guards commemorates events in 1990 in the USA when protestors from the hugely successful ‘Justice for Janitors’ campaign were confronted by police. Baton wielding officers tried to break up a janitors’ march in Los Angeles, and 38 of the cleaners were arrested. It is now a global day of action.
A United Voice investigation last year uncovered illegal sub-contracting at a quarter of city office sites and also found that sub-contracted cleaners were paid as little as $15 an hour on night shift, a fraction of the agreed rate of $24.35 an hour.
Lina Martinez, an international student from Colombia and Glad cleaner said students were vulnerable because they needed to work and often felt fearful and intimidated.
“My family cannot afford to support me over here so I need to work to pay my study fees and support myself. Coming to a developed country like Australia I was surprised to see people exploited at work, but students cannot afford to lose their jobs and so some keep quiet and end up being paid a lot less for doing the same work as others,” said Lina. “This agreement is a wonderful result for all cleaners.”
The first Clean Start agreement lifted pay substantially for about 1500 cleaners. That agreement expired on June 30, 2013. The new Clean Start deal includes above-CPI wage rises of 12 per cent over four years.
Crucially, the new agreement aims to promote job security and ensure sub-contractors are only used when there is a need for specialised work not normally done by direct employees. If specialised skills are genuinely required, employees must receive Clean Start pay, minimum shift times and health and safety standards comparable to direct employees.
Prior to Clean Start office cleaning was beset by high levels of job insecurity. Typically cleaners can work for five or more contractors in the same office building across their career. The Clean Start Agreement enables them to keep their jobs and their long service leave when a new contractor wins the contract in their building.
United Voice is one of Australia’s largest and most powerful unions. United Voice members work around the clock providing essential services to the community, as paramedics, cleaners, childcare educators, in the hospitality sector and as security guards. They are standing together to be valued and respected for their hard work.