Cleaners' rallies target CBD building owners


Sue Bolton, Melbourne

In cities across Australia on June 15, nearly 1000 people joined rallies and marches to demand a "fair deal for cleaners". Rallies were held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The protests targeted the owners of major CBD buildings across Australia.

Similar rallies were held that same day in New Zealand, organised by the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU).

Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union Victorian branch assistant secretary Jess Walsh told Green Left Weekly that the LHMU-SFWU Clean Start campaign was launched in April because the owners of CBD office buildings had been reducing the amount of money allocated to cleaning. The property owners squeezed the cleaning contractors, and the cleaning contractors squeezed the cleaners, most of whom are immigrant women from non-English speaking backgrounds.

"The cleaning contractors are the meat in the sandwich", said Walsh. "It's the property owners making the decisions. That's why this campaign is targeting the property owners instead of the cleaning contractors."

When the property owners cut their spending on cleaning, there are cuts to the number of cleaners and cuts to hours for cleaning, she explained. But the cleaning still needs to be done. So the work has to be done in less time and with fewer cleaners.

Walsh said that the campaign had forced the property owners to talk to the union. The only company refusing to talk was Allco. The Allco Group has interests in around 20 CBD buildings across Australia. Allco's property assets are collectively valued at almost $2 billion.

Following the June 15 rallies, Allco has agreed to talk to the LHMU. However, there is still a long way to go, said Walsh. "Negotiations have started, but we haven't won yet."

Ana Hanson reports from Canberra that 40 cleaners and their supporters gathered outside Pilgrim House on June 15, before marching — armed with buckets, shakers and whistles — through and around buildings in the city centre. The march ended at the Canberra Centre where speakers and a sausage sizzle were waiting. It was here that the winner of the "Golden Toilet Brush" was announced — the Allco Group.

From Green Left Weekly, June 21 2006.
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