School cleaners across Cardinia may soon be jobless following the State Government’s decision to slash their contracts next month.
As of 1 July, the Victorian Government’s state school cleaning reforms will see regions across Melbourne divided into eight zones, with a single cleaning contract awarded for all schools in each.
The move has been described as a bid to stop staff being routinely underpaid and exploited by rogue operators.
“The Government has zero tolerance for poor labour practices,” Education Minister James Merlino said.
”Our reform will provide greater assurance that school cleaners receiving their legal wages and entitlements.”
As a result, over 92 cleaning contracts have been torn up and the jobs of hundreds of cleaners now hang in the balance.
Member for Bass Brian Paynter said the move punished the many for the wrongdoings of the few.
“There’s little evidence of it, and if there really are problems with underpaying in the industry then we have the correct systems in place to identify those problems and fix them,” he said.
“Don’t penalise the small local family businesses that are doing the right thing.”
One Pakenham cleaning company owner, who have opted to have their name withheld for fear of compromising future employment prospects, has held the cleaning contract at a local state school for nearly 12 years.
“To lose the school is pretty devastating,” the company’s owner said.
“The government said they are doing it to look after the cleaners but I don’t believe that.”
The company owner said his cleaners haven’t even been spoken to and don’t know whether they will have a job in a week.
“All the cleaners are locals and they are fantastic people. What is happening to us is so unfair; we’ve done everything right for all these years and lost out through no fault of our own.
“My cleaners don’t know where to go now. One lives two blocks from the school and doesn’t drive, and might be posted to a school 45 minutes away. How is that going to work for her?
“We went to a rally and met some people who are going to lose their whole business because of this. It’s been so badly handled.”
A local principal, who asked not to be named, said they also saw no need for the reforms.
The principal said the concerns raised by the government “genuinely aren’t an issue here”.
“The company we use does a number of smaller schools. When we put out the tender we avoided the bigger companies because we wanted that personalised service,” they said.
“Now we’re losing control of the decision-making.”
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) have called for better enforcement of existing workplace rules, and “not a kneejerk response that puts people out of businesses.”
“This appears to be contradictory to Government procurement principals that allow small and medium business to compete in a competitive space with ‘big business,’” Chief Executive of VCCI Mark Stone AM said.
Shadow Minister for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Neale Burgess said wiping out local school cleaning businesses was “just further proof that Daniel Andrews is nothing more than a bully.”
“Labor’s unfair changes to school cleaning contracts have wiped out over 700 small, mum and dad family businesses with the stroke of a pen. They have installed six major cleaning companies, one of which, ISS Facility Services, was fined $132,000 for underpaying their workers,” he said.
“This unionised takeover of our school cleaners is a disgrace and the community should be outraged.”