House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

International Cleaners Day

8:42 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | Hansard source

It is a great pleasure to support this motion in the House in relation to International Cleaners Day. This is a part of Australia and of our community that is often unrecognised, yet these are people who in many cases do this as they enter Australia, whether on a temporary basis, as permanent residents or as new citizens—let's be honest about this. It is a job which is not only vital but unrecognised. So I want to acknowledge the corps of cleaners around Australia today. I know from all of the different phases of my own life how important it is, and I know from the various friends who have worked in this space that it can be a long and arduous job and should never, ever be taken for granted.

Against that background, let me point out a particular risk and threat. I will do so through the rubric of my own office. We have a magnificent cleaner, Jenny. She does a great job with a very cheerful approach and produces brilliant outcomes. In January we discovered some of the facts about the way in which she was being exploited. The Commonwealth was paying a certain rate and there was a contract of $738.50 per month, of which the cleaner received about $240 per month for doing the work. So two-thirds of the funds paid by the Commonwealth for the job were actually skimmed off by the contractor. I thought that was completely inappropriate: firstly, our cleaner was being underpaid; secondly, our cleaner was being exploited; and, thirdly, the Commonwealth was wasting money. So on all three fronts it was wrong and inappropriate.

On that day I wrote to Gary Gray, who was the then Special Minister of State. Events have come to pass and he has subsequently been elevated to the cabinet, but, to his credit, he did respond in time, expressing his concern. He passed the issue on to the member for Isaacs, Mark Dreyfus, when he, Mr Dreyfus, became the Special Minister of State. Between the two of them, they took the complaint very seriously and there was rectification for our cleaner. But this is an example of the vulnerable status of many of these cleaners. They are people who may not be in a position to exercise their own rights, who may not have adequate workplace protections. And this happened under the watch of the Commonwealth. It was only by chance that we discovered—not on the basis of any complaint, but simply due to our own inquiries—that we discovered this one particular cleaner was being clearly and categorically exploited while in the effective employ of the Commonwealth. To be fair, both Minister Gray and Minister Dreyfus took the issue very seriously and we were able to resolve it. However, this was a situation where you had an aware immediate employer with resort to the highest authority in the land in terms of action, but there must be numerous other cases where the contractors are taking the cleaners for a ride. We have a duty of care and protection on the basis of what we have seen.

In my view, we can and should do more. We need to acknowledge the work that is done, to respect and appreciate the work and to note that there is a particularly high proportion of migrant communities represented in this sector. We should also note that many of them have also been members of the HSU, which has seen another form of exploitation. So exploitation on two fronts: firstly, in some cases of direct employment, although let me say I am sure most employers are exceptionally good; and, secondly, exploitation by the union. The fact that the union is meant to represent them was subject to one of the most significant rorts is, I think, a deep source of disappointment. But I say thank you— (Time expired)


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