Cleaning contracts don’t wash

A protest the UWU staged outside the Deputy Premier’s office on December 21 (supplied).

Zoe Moffatt

International students are now cleaning school classrooms in Melbourne’s north-west following the slashing of contract hours, according to the United Workers Union (UWU) property services co-ordinator Linda Revill.

The issue of new contracts offered to school clearners in the north-west was raised in Parliament by a western Melbourne politician on February 7.

It follows the change in school cleaning contracts to Serco and Tradeflex, which have slashed contract hours and stripped cleaners of up to 60 per cent of their wage.

United Workers Union (UWU) property services co-ordinator Linda Revill said Victorian school cleaners have been pushed into a disastrous situation by the change of contracts.

“Cleaners who have done the job for decades have been put on six months probation and are living in fear of the next negative comment from their supervisor,” she said.

“Even worse, UWU is aware of reports the new contractors have turned to sub-contractors, who are in reality international students being hired at cut-throat rates.

“It is embarrassing a Labor government with a proud history of reforms that have helped workers has let Victorian school cleaners down so badly.

“Instead of ending the worst excesses of Kennett-era privatisations and directly employing Victorian school cleaners, Education Minister Ben Carroll has turned his back on working people.

“It’s time that the Victorian government made schools, kids, parents and these hard-working school cleaners their priority, and stop lining the pockets of predatory private sector multinationals.”

Western Metropolitan MP David Ettershank has spoken out against Victoria’s school cleaning contracts, calling for action on the ‘grossly unjust’ change to hours and wages.

In a Member’s Statement, Mr Ettershank said the government is supposedly committed to a fair and equitable education system.

“Victoria calls itself the Education State. A critical part of this is a strong, sustainable and supported workforce so that all schools can attract and retain the workforce they need,” he said.

“School cleaners are the unsung heroes of that workforce. They are poorly paid and only contracted for 42 weeks of the year, leaving them without pay over the school holidays.

“Their position will be further reduced by the recent awarding of school cleaning contracts in the west to Serco cleaning services.”

Western suburbs school cleaner Mick Lynch is one worker who has been greatly affected by these changes, with his hours cut in half.

Mr Ettershank said the changes will put strain on other staff members at schools in the state.

“This is grossly unjust for the cleaners and will doubtless increase the strain on our teachers… exacerbating recruitment and retention problems,” he said.

Since starting the new year and new contract, Mr Lynch said the problem remains a health and safety issue.

“[The cleaners] just have to make do with the hours [they’ve] got,” he said.

“The three hours isn’t feasible, it’s limited vacuuming twice a week, whipping down the tables three times a week.

“The bottom line is as a whole it’s a massive struggle, it’s a big hit to the pocket. The schools around the place are suffer[ing].”

A Department of Education spokesperson said the government has zero tolerance for any workplace laws and legislation breaches, including underpayment.

“Employment contract arrangements are a matter for cleaning service providers who must comply with workplace compliance obligations,“ they said.