Time to turn the spotlight on Spotless (31/05/2011)

retail-cleaner300.jpgAn adjournment speech in support of the Clean Start campaign by retail cleaners to win bettter wages and working conditions at Spotless.

ADJOURNMENT - Clean Start Campaign

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (Mon 29 May, 21:44):

A few months ago I met with union members from United Voice, including workers employed as cleaners in my electorate of Throsby.

Members may be aware that United Voice is the new name for the union formerly known as the LHMU—the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. United Voice represents workers in the hospitality, aged-care, security, childcare and cleaning industries.

Cleaning staff—the people who keep our workplaces, hotels and shopping centres spick and span and healthy—are some of the lowest paid workers in our economy.

We should never forget that it is workers like these who felt the full brunt of Work Choices under the previous government. Having survived Work Choices, cleaners around Australia are now campaigning for respect, a liveable wage, job security and fair and safe working conditions.

The name of their campaign is Clean Start. I was proud to support Clean Start before entering parliament and am proud to maintain that support in this place.

The United Voice members that I met with are very concerned about the conduct of one company, in particular, which is refusing to negotiate with their representative, the union. The company is the biggest publicly listed cleaning company in Australia and holds nearly 30 per cent of all shopping centre cleaning contracts across the country.

The company's name is Spotless.

Recently, I wrote to the Managing Director and CEO of Spotless, Mr Josef Farnik, calling on him to respect the wishes of the majority of the company's employees by entering into good faith negotiations with United Voice.

Retail cleaners have legitimate concerns about their pay and conditions. They deserve a liveable wage, job security, fair and safe working conditions and the fundamental right to collectively bargain. Aside from low wages, retail cleaners are taking a stand against bullying and harassment, overwork and unsafe work practices.

Despite repeated attempts to start genuine negotiations, Spotless has so far refused to bargain with workers and their union.

It should be noted that Spotless has already signed up to Clean Start for hospital and office cleaners, and it should be applauded for this step. Spotless have replied to the letter that I wrote to them and have raised the issue of sham contracting in the retail cleaning industry and their concern about it. That is also a concern for other employers like Spotless, but it is no excuse to refuse to bargain in the retail-cleaning industry in good faith.

Employees are concerned that Spotless is aggressively promoting individual flexibility agreements across the retail cleaning workforce. There is no excuse for any employer to be using individual flexibility agreements as a back door way of returning to the Work Choices style take-it-or-leave-it agreement making that characterised the previous government. I understand that the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia, has been called in to adjudicate. That is a good feature of the new system, and I look forward to its ruling.

We do not often see the labours of cleaners, who work late nights and early mornings, and yet their work affects us every day. They certainly do not deserve to be spurned and ignored by their employer for wanting to negotiate a collective agreement.

I encourage all members to take an interest in this issue and keep the focus on Spotless until it changes its strategy and begins treating its workers and the union with a bit of respect.

I also call on government departments to apply the fair work code, and incorporate the Clean Start principles, in their departments and in the contracts that they let to the contract cleaning industry. It is the policy of government. Unhappily, it is a policy that is not being applied in all federal government departments, but one that should be.

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