House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

International Cleaners Day

8:47 pm

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I was almost getting excited then. I thought the member for Flinders was going to have a conversion right here in front of us. He sounded like a union official almost. He talked about talking to a worker, finding a legitimate issue of exploitation and rectifying it. I think there is hope for the member for Flinders yet! And it is good. I always remember, in my days in the union movement, that some of my best union delegates were conservative voters because they had an inherent sense—a very Australian sense—of fairness, and that is what Australian conservatism at its best is representative of.

It is great to speak on this motion moved by the member for Hindmarsh. He is a very strong advocate for migrant communities in South Australia, particularly those in his electorate, and as the member for Flinders said cleaners are quite often—it is quite often the first job that a migrant gets. On International Cleaners Day it is good to acknowledge how hard they work. I have some knowledge of this as I was a cleaner in a past life. I cleaned offices and supermarket floors. I have vivid memories of Coles in Findon. I have vivid memories of being in the same aisle every morning and the same Billy Joel song being played. It was like groundhog day. I was doing my penance, cleaning supermarket floors and then working split shifts at the other end of the day cleaning offices when I was in university.

As the member for Flinders said, in an industry that is rife with subcontracting, exploitation and rip-offs, I consider myself lucky because I just did not get paid my penalty rates—it was not any worse than that. I vividly remember being told by a supervisor, 'If you join a union, you'll get the sack,' and unfortunately that is something that goes on in the industry where people are casual, where they work in contracting and where they are vulnerable to the exploitation and the rip-offs. Of course, the people paying the contracts think they are doing the right thing because they are paying a reasonable, and sometimes exorbitant, fee to the head contractor. But by the time that trickles to the worker, there is barely anything at all, and we see the same thing in trolley collection as well.

I would like to pay tribute to one of my great supporters in the electorate. Steve Hollingworth is a union delegate for the United Voice union. He is active in the Clean Start campaign in my electorate and a great defender of the rights of cleaners in shopping centres. He has worked very hard organising in his own workplace and representing workers in wage negotiations and the like. He is a great champion of the labour movement and of working people—he has been his entire life. He spent many years at Holden as the head delegate there. He deliberately entered the cleaning industry because he knew how bad conditions were and he thought that, after his time at Holden, he could do a bit of work there. As I was going to work in my office, I would often see him driving around one of those rubbish collecting buggies cleaning up the car park at Munno Para shops. He is a great champion of the labour movement so I would like to honour him here.

It is good that conservatives are speaking on this motion. It is right and proper that we should honour cleaners, because they are great workers. They do the toughest work—and we had a motion by the member for Moore talking about some of that work in the healthcare sector earlier on in the day—but they need action, not just words. They do not want people's sympathy. What they want is a strong industrial relations system, as represented by the Fair Work Act, where there are deliberate mechanisms for those workers to collectively bargain to advance their position and for them to get a fair go at work—a fair go that has been denied to them for so long. They deserve good wages, they deserve respect and they deserve our thanks.


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