Posted by Sam Salvidge · November 28, 2013 2:11 PM
Cleaners at Westfield shopping centres across Australia have been campaigning to get a fair deal from the corporate giant, but Westfield has been crying poor, saying it can’t fund fair wages for low paid cleaners in their contracts. Now it turns out that they’ve been taking full advantage of American tax concessions to reap millions in extra profit. Check out the story by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Hiltzik!
Underpaying foreign students who work as cleaners is not only unjust, it is bad for Australia's reputation and undercuts our wages and conditions.
If Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne are serious about rebuilding the international education market they need to pay close attention to the report released this week uncovering the exploitation of international students working in the cleaning industry.
The Coalition has promised to increase revenue to universities and vocational colleges within 100 days of being elected by extending post-study visas for international students. This plan will not entice more international students if we keep turning a blind eye to the exploitation of these students when they are in the Australian workplace.
As Helen Szoke, a former race discrimination commissioner has observed, "what we don't want are international students going home telling stories about being treated badly or being treated in a way which constitutes racism".
Yet, this is precisely what is occurring: international students are being treated differently as cleaning workers because they are not Australian. The top three countries of origin of international student cleaners are India (51.5 per cent), Colombia (15.2) and Sri Lanka (12.1).
United Voice's report found that underpayment of international students was occurring in at least one in four city offices. Many of these workers were being employed illegally in what appeared to be sham contracting arrangements and sometimes without any paperwork. Three out of four international students knew little or nothing about their rights at work, and many were subject to abuse and intimidation.
A comprehensive investigation of conditions for international students who clean Melbourne's office towers has found them subject to exploitation, extreme job insecurity and abuse.
A Dirty Business, to be released on Thursday by union United Voice, finds international students have become an ''invisible mainstay'' of Melbourne's cleaning industry.
The report took seven months to research and write and was based on interviews with almost 250 cleaners. Researchers used some covert methods to investigate the secretive industry.
It found international students were largely unaware of their workplace rights, and as a result were being systematically underpaid - some by up to $15,000 a year.
The report also found some office tower owners were being ''defrauded'' of up to $150,000 a year by cleaning firms promising to pay their staff $24 an hour but instead paying about $15.
''Inside our grandest, shiniest office towers there is a secret world rife with bullying, intimidation and fear,'' the union's Victorian secretary, Jess Walsh, said.
One cleaner, named in the report as Preeta, said she worked in the evening at a central Melbourne office block. She said she worked alongside ‘‘white people’’ who were paid by a main contractor, while the mostly Asian casual cleaning staff worked for a subcontractor who paid them less.
‘‘The Asian people and those from the poor countries, they are working for the subcontractor. The white people, actually whoever is the nationality of owners of the main company, they straight away are paid from the main company – but not us,’’ she said.
‘‘Sometimes when the union went to the building our supervisor told us ... not talk to them.’’
Another cleaner, identified only as Sarita in the report, said she also worked in a city office building. She said her supervisor often threatened and swore at her.
‘‘He would say things like; ‘‘You f---ing girl – clean it up properly, otherwise I sack you’.’’
Sarita said she was paid $17 an hour, later increased to $18, for evening cleaning work.
Brian Howe AO, former Deputy Prime Minister, gives his support to the Clean Start Campaign in this short film taken at the campaign launch in May 2013. Cleaners and the broader community stood together to win Clean Start Agreements in 2006, but are now negotiating new agreements. Brian talks about the high levels of job insecurity and risk cleaners face, and the importance of standing together to support this campaign.
Posted by Sam Salvidge · July 02, 2013 3:22 PM
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United Voice, the cleaners' union, says the audit of up to 1000 cleaning contractors begun by the Fair Work Ombudsman today is a warning to shonky contractors and their clients that it is time to clean up their acts.
The Ombudsman has also announced an investigation into tendering and procurement processes of eight major shopping centres in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane. Michael Crosby, National President of United Voice says “Cleaners welcome the Fair Work Ombudsman's investigation into contract cleaning.
"It is not acceptable for organisations to outsource work to the lowest-cost contractor and turn a blind eye to any subsequent unfair treatment of low-paid workers. Such behaviour can be detrimental to an organisation’s reputation and may also be considered unlawful.
WHEN Dewan* first came to Australia to study, he expected to learn a great deal.
But the Bangladeshi student, typical of the 300,000 who come to Australia each year to attend our universities and TAFEs, was surprised to discover that his toughest lessons were not in lecture theatres or study halls. Instead, they were at work.
Like all international students, Dewan is entitled to work 20 hours a week during term time to help him pay his way through university. And like many international students, he chose to become a cleaner to make ends meet.
It wasn’t long before he found himself being thoroughly exploited and ripped off by his boss, who ran a contract cleaning company employed to clean a major Melbourne shopping centre.