Union tells government to clean up its act when it comes to school contractors

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

The United Workers Union has given the Victorian government an ultimatum: ensure hundreds of school cleaners keep the same pay and conditions or go to court.

Proceedings against the government will be launched by the union unless incoming contractors Tradeflex and Serco are directed to retain 700 Victorian cleaners on the same hours and conditions from January 15.

Outgoing company ISS pulled out of a one-year extension of its contract in Melbourne’s western and north-eastern suburbs, leaving cleaners without a job just days before Christmas.

The union says the new contractors won’t start hiring cleaners to work until 15 January. They will also cut existing pay rates and hours – a move that will see workers lose up to $11,000 a year.

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Penalty breaches add up to thousands

A letter from the union to Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll claimed the government had been “aware of, directed in, and participated in” contraventions of Occupational Health and Safety laws. For each breach, penalties are up to $187,000.

The union says Tradeflex has not made the majority of cleaners firm offers of employment, while those who have received offers from Serco are seeing their shifts halved.

It will be alleged both contractors’ actions represent breaches of workplace safety laws by cutting hours and imposing “unreasonable workloads” on school cleaners.

Cuts make cost-of-living stress for school cleaners worse

United Workers Union Property Services Director Lyndal Ryan says the education minister needs to “get out of his air-conditioned office” to understand the cleaners’ prospects.

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“Because of this bungled changeover, workers are facing weeks without pay over Christmas and drastic cuts to hours and pay even if they land a job,” she said. “These workers are barely above the minimum wage and the Victorian government is throwing them onto the scrap heap during a cost-of-living crisis in the hope that friends and family can lend a hand over the Christmas break.

“The hard-hearted treatment of these workers is exactly why we have been calling for an end to this race-to-the-bottom privatisation of Victorian school cleaning.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live