Low-paid cleaners to accost Premier at ALP conference

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Photo: Ken Irwin KEN 17th November 2012 The Sunday Age. News 
The Melbourne edition of National Big Steps Day as parents massed with their families on the steps of Parliament House and marched to Treasury Gardens. Jess Walsh, Victorian Secretary of United Voice. Photo: Ken Irwin
Story by: Photo: Ken Irwin KEN 17th November 2012 The Sunday Age. News The Melbourne edition of National Big Steps Day as parents massed with their families on the steps of Parliament House and marched to Treasury Gardens. Jess Walsh, Victorian Secretary of United Voice. Photo: Ken Irwin

A key left-wing union is preparing to confront Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at Saturday's Labor Party state conference and demand sweeping reform to protect school cleaners from "wage theft".

The state secretary of United Voice, Jess Walsh, will move an "urgency resolution" at the party's conference at Melbourne's Moonee Valley Racecourse, and unveil the results of an audit suggesting a staggering 80 per cent of school cleaners are being paid below-award rates.

According to the results of the audit, in which officials visited 142 schools, cleaners are routinely hired on sham ABN contracts or on an off-the-books basis, and the average underpayment was estimated to be $3000 a year.

School cleaners plan to approach Mr Andrews when he enters the conference.

"The Premier has had 2?? years to reform school cleaning, clean out the backyard operators and end the exploitation of our school cleaners," Ms Walsh said.

"Victoria's school cleaning system is the worst of any state in the country ... it promotes competition among hundreds of backyard operators based on who can get away with paying cleaners the least for the longest without detection."

The United Voice resolution calls on the conference to recognise the extent of the underpayment, fear and intimidation within the public school cleaning network, and states that ensuring dignity at work is "core Labor business, based on core Labor values".

It calls on Mr Andrews to "immediately and comprehensively" reform the system.

Fairfax Media understands the motion will be seconded by right-wing union, the National Union of Workers.

Lorraine Bird, a school cleaner from Melbourne's east, is one of the workers who said she would approach the Premier on Saturday.

"I'm going to say to him, 'We need a safe workplace, employers who do the right thing, and you're not doing anything to help school cleaners'," she said.

"School cleaners are an essential part of our schools and education."

The national workplace watchdog is in the process of investigating allegations of exploitation among cleaners working at government-run schools. Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said there was a "race to the bottom" mentality in the industry, which had led to unsustainable business models, irresponsible contracting and unreasonably low prices.

A spokesman from the Ombudsman's office said Australia's cleaning staff were often "vulnerable workers at the bottom of complex supply chains": "Whilst we acknowledge that competitive tendering and tight profit margins can compromise the ability of some cleaning businesses to meet their compliance obligations, employers cannot look to cut costs by undercutting and ignoring minimum wage rates."

This story Low-paid cleaners to accost Premier at ALP conference first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.