House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

International Cleaners Day

8:38 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that 15 June is International Cleaners Day, recognising cleaners all over the world for their work and efforts;

(2) recognises the:

(a) importance and significance of the work of cleaners; and

(b) important contributions of cleaners across the Australian community;

(3) supports the call for a fair go for cleaners and recognises that cleaners are some of the lowest paid workers in Australia; and

(4) congratulates all cleaners for their achievements and the work that they have done in advocating for the rights of fellow cleaners through the Clean Start campaign.

It gives me great pleasure to move this motion recognising International Cleaners Day, which is celebrated all around the world on 15 June, which was a week or so ago. This day recognises cleaners all over the world for their work, for their efforts. This motion recognises the importance and significance of the work done by cleaners and the important contribution of cleaners across the Australian community and supports a call for a fair go for cleaners. It recognises that cleaners are some of the lowest paid workers in Australia.

I would like to congratulate all cleaners for their achievements and for the wonderful work that they do. They have worked very hard in advocating for the rights of fellow cleaners throughout the Clean Start campaign, which has been going for a number of years. I also congratulate them for doing such a wonderful job when we are tucked away in our beds here in Canberra and they are in our offices cleaning. I pay tribute to Maria, who has been here for 25 years, since the opening of this parliament. I believe Maria was at the 25-year celebrations today for this wonderful building. Of course, we see the results when we come in in the morning. Everything is clean, our bins are emptied, our bathrooms are washed, and this is all done through the hard work of, as I said, some of our lowest paid workers in Australia.

All across Australia, including in my electorate, cleaners have joined the United Voice Clean Start campaign in an effort to provide better working conditions and better wages for workers employed in the cleaning industry. The success of this campaign led to the Clean Start agreement, which has delivered improving standards for thousands of cleaners and, most importantly, improved safety and conditions across workplaces all around Australia. The original agreement is near its expiry date, and even under the current agreement many employers simply ignore the rights of their employees. We have seen sham contracting and cash-in-hand payments by some employers within the industry, and that threatens the standards set up by the Clean Start agreement.

Undercutting wages, unreasonable workloads and unsafe work environments present serious problems for many workers in the cleaning industry. Add to all of this the fact that it has been almost a whole year since cleaners have had a wage increase and that we know that, if the coalition are elected to government, 3.5 million workers, including thousands of cleaners, will have taxes on their superannuation contributions increased. I cannot begin to imagine the stress faced by these cleaners right across Australia when they do not know where their wages might be and whether they will have a safe workplace or even a job going forward. The industry is also renowned for often having poor job security, and this is evidenced by the collapse of one of Australia's largest cleaning companies only recently.

I am very proud to speak on this motion, because my mother was a cleaner and I saw firsthand the hours that she worked. We would have dinner at night at home, and she was always absent from the dinner table. She worked extremely hard and, as I said, I am very proud of her. Through cleaning, she brought me and my sister up in a very good way, I think.

Many in this place and around Australia will remember that only recently Swan Services collapsed, leaving thousands of workers without a job. Some Swan workers will be able to claim some entitlements through the Fair Entitlements Guarantee scheme administered by the federal government but, in a rather tragic circumstance, the scheme applies only to Australian citizens or permanent residents. Many of the people that are owed money are overseas international students who still have not been paid.

I would also like to acknowledge the important contribution of Wolfgang, the cleaner in my own electorate office in Glenelg in Hindmarsh—who comes in day and night, day after day, to clean the electorate office—and, of course, all the cleaners here in Parliament House, who ensure that our offices are kept spotless and operational at all times. We have so many who work so hard, but there are some good news stories. National Cleaning Services Australia, City Group, Mirrors Cleaning, Rose Cleaning Service and Phillips Cleaning Service, all based right here in Canberra, have decided to lead the way towards maintenance and improvement of standards of cleaning, and they ought to be congratulated as well for the stand that they are taking. Other companies, local and national, should be urged to take the lead.

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)

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.

8:52 pm

Photo of Dennis JensenDennis Jensen (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we rightly recognise the hard work that cleaners in Australia do daily. Cleaners are the silent workers coming into your homes and offices when you are at work and coming into your workplace once you have returned home. You may never have even met the cleaner who may enter your work and home on a regular basis and keeps hotel rooms, sports stadiums, shopping centres and schools to the standard that we so often take for granted.

Cleaning is a tough job—hard work day-in, day-out—and there is little recognition for this. That hard work is sometimes unnoticed but is an integral part of our daily lives. We see cleaners here at Parliament House, who no doubt have been working for hours before we arrive and will be working hours after we leave, keeping government buildings to the impeccable standard that is expected by our society.

We all know a cleaner or come across a cleaner on a daily basis, and it is not uncommon that, despite the hard work that they have been enduring that day, you will still be met with a smile and a simple hello to form part of your day. Cleaning is an occupation that many mothers returning to the workplace commence after having children. It is the occupation that many single parents, new immigrants and parents wanting extra money at the end of the week may enter into as it is outside school hours. While some may view that anyone can be a cleaner, it requires a certain type of personality to persevere during dirty and tough days and long hours for minimal pay.

Clean Start was founded as it was clear that cleaning contractors were cutting corners in an effort to win cleaning contracts. This resulted in cleaners working longer hours, suffering from excessive and dangerous workloads and struggling to survive on poverty wages. This also had a knock-on effect on building owners as it posed public hygiene and occupational health and safety reputational risks that threatened to undermine their relationships with tenants. The solution to this was working together and establishing a Clean Start agreement.

Clean Start ensures the provision of quality cleaning services while ensuring quality lives. Because of Clean Start, families with it are now being given a better life than most other cleaners who still struggle with day-to-day expenses. There is a need to make sure that there continues to be a balance between people being able to pay for their daily living expenses and not living in poverty whilst having clean and safe offices and buildings. Clean Start is about respectful cleaners and fairer rights and these are the foundations that all workers in Australia deserve and that we should all endeavour to work towards.

People in our community should not work long, hard hours and still not be able to pay basic rent and living expenses. People who want to work hard should still be able to pay the bills at the end of the week. The Clean Start campaign has made a difference to people's lives. Cleaning companies have an obligation to not only provide a job but to ensure that the work is a decent job, that it provides a living wage and gives people some control over their working conditions.

The campaign of Clean Start requires the support of the community. It is a voice for cleaners who sometimes go unnoticed. It is to enable the voices of cleaners to be heard so that they do not fall into poverty. The campaign is centred around pay and that cleaners deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Almost every cleaner is a mother, sister, father, brother. They want what we all want and hurt in the same way. I want the good bloke that cleans our electorate office to know that he is appreciated and valued. You find mugs that have grown legs of their own. You bring a calm organisation to the chaos. In the final analysis, with the movement of this motion today, dignity and respect is being shown to all the hardworking cleaners of Australia.

Debate adjourned.