Hard work forces cleaners to walk 15km everyday

March 29, 2012
Image: United Voice, community.rightsatwork.com.au

“I used to go fishing. I used to go to community meetings. I stopped doing that. I am tired because most of the time I am doing overtime.” Gamal Babiker, Cleaner.

Cleaners working for contracting giant Spotless walked from Chadstone to Melbourne’s CBD on March 26 to highlight the brutal workloads that force them to walk the same huge distances in their jobs every single day.

The Walk For The Cleaners kicked off at Chadstone shopping centre where cleaners and community supporters marched more than 16 kilometres to Parliament House in the city. To further highlight the difficulties of the job, cleaners carried brooms and pushed heavy cleaning trollies.

Cleaners walk an average of nearly 15 kilometres over an eight-hour working day, although many walk as much as 20 kilometres – at least 84 times the length of the MCG.

Jess Walsh, state secretary of cleaners' union United Voice, said: “Spotless has cut hours and staffing levels back to the bone, and so now cleaners find themselves having to race huge distances every day just to get their job done, which they do for as little as $16.57 an hour — or a little over $600 a week.

“This industry is in crisis and cleaners’ workloads have become a burden that’s become so impossible to bear that they can no longer even do their jobs properly.”

A report by the Uniting Church, “Cutting Corners”, found that contractors like Spotless are continually driving down the value of cleaning contracts to try to undercut rivals and win new business.

The report found that cleaners in retail shopping centres in Victoria are bearing the brunt of competition between retail property owners, property tenants and cleaning companies.

Shopping centre owners and managers and contract cleaning companies cut corners with their cleaning budgets. Owners of Victoria's retail centres include the Commonwealth Bank (16%) Centro Properties Group (16%) and Myer (14%).

Shopping centre cleaning has been restructured through privatisation and contracting processes. The result is continual cutting of cleaners’ pay and the erosion of working conditions.

Excessive workloads are contributing to a spate of injuries, heart disease, depression and mental breakdowns. A survey of shopping centre cleaners working for Spotless found that 56% of those surveyed suffer stress from extreme workloads.

Cleaners are also dangerously close to the poverty line. Eighty percent of those surveyed said they could not support a family on their wages. More than half said they were forced to cut back on groceries and nearly three quarters were struggling to pay bills and debts.

Walsh said cleaners “have repeatedly asked Spotless to sit down and discuss safe workloads and fair wages, but Spotless refuses to even talk with them. That’s why they are embarking on this march – to draw attention to their brutal workloads and poverty pay.”

The goal of the march was to get Spotless to sign on to Clean Start: Fair Deal For Cleaners.

[For more information and to support the campaign, visit the Clean Start website.]

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