Contractors working at the Melbourne Cricket Ground are systematically cheating cleaners by paying them up to $16 an hour less than their legal pay and insisting they complete unpaid work.
Under-payments of sub-contracted international students are common at the MCG, according to an investigation by United Voice, the cleaners’ union.
As the stadium prepares for its biggest three weeks of football for the season, there are strong suggestions that international students are shipped in from overseas with offers of part time work only to become cleaners at the landmark arena.
The investigation revealed that cleaners employed directly by the contracted cleaning company, ISS, were in some cases paid almost double the pay of cleaners engaged by the sub-contractor First Placement Consultants. However, there was evidence cleaners employed by ISS were also missing out on legal entitlements.
The findings of the investigation have been referred to the industrial umpire, the Fair Work Ombudsman, to blow the whistle on the rorts. The FWO has confirmed that it has launched an inquiry.
FPC is part of the First Group of Companies which has offices in Australia and the Philippines. Another arm of the group is First Education Consultants, an accredited student agent which appears to have relationships with Deakin University, Federation University, Stotts College and the Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE, among others.
On its Philippine website First Educational Consultants tells prospective students to Australia as part of its pitch that the company will find them part-time work.
United Voice secretary, Jess Walsh said it appeared that ISS was using the First Group to slash costs by ripping off international students.
“Melbourne’s cleaning industry has a dirty secret, the relentless exploitation of international students,” said Walsh.
“We are working to clean out the rip offs from city office buildings, but they have spread to the MCG as well. We are reporting these operators to the industrial umpire, the Fair Work Ombudsman.
“ISS and the First Group seem to have taken the exploitation of students to a new level: luring them from overseas to come here as students and exploiting them as cheap labour once they arrive, all in the guise of helping them find work.
“One company, Glad, has agreed to end sub-contracting in the city but the biggest obstacle is Consolidated Property Services which is standing in the way of city-wide reforms that would clear out the cheats. This racket is rife and it threatens the reputation of our international education industry.”
Reyvi Marinas, Chairperson of Migrante Melbourne, a Filipino community organisation, said his group had been contacted over several years by Filipino international students recruited to Australia through the First Group of Companies and employed as rubbish pickers at the MCG.
“It was known that the cleaning agency they were working for was also owned by the same education agency,” said Mr Marinas (pictured explaining the problems facing Filipino students to a journalist).
Several cleaners told the union investigation they were required to supply FPC with an ABN. This meant they did not receive holiday or sick pay but were employed as so-called independent contractors.
They complained also of abuse, bullying and intimidation by managers. One experienced cleaner who declined to be identified said: “I've seen quite a few people cry from how they’ve been spoken to by managers. I've been in tears myself. They pick on you. They’ll get you in the office on your own with no witnesses and bully you.”
The union investigation heard also of cleaners employed for less than the minimum four hour shifts and being ordered to wait up to one hour and 45 minutes without pay before starting work.
Seven cleaners employed by FPC were paid below award rates throughout the week: $18 Monday to Friday evenings compared to the award of $24.48; $21 Saturday compared to the award of $30.61, and $23 Sunday compared to the award of $39,35. The award rates have since risen further.
They did not receive pay slips, waited up to 35 days before being paid and were employed for as little as two hours at a time. The minimum legal shift for cleaners is four hours.
They were supplied with ISS uniforms and were presented as ISS employees but they were paid less than the award minimum.
A United Voice investigation into city cleaning last year found evidence of sub-contracting at more than half the sites where ISS held the contract, with cleaners underpaid up to $9 an hour.
“Subcontracting in the city as well as at the MCG is a systematic and persistent problem. We have referred our findings to the Ombudsman’s office because of its expertise in investigating sham contracting,” said Walsh.
“We’re insisting that leading companies like Consolidated and ISS join Glad in committing to rid the city of sub-contracting and all the rorts that go with it.
“More than any other company right now, Consolidated is standing in the way of removing this stain that taints our city, our biggest sporting icon and international education industry.”