Cathy has been a shopping centre cleaner in a busy Westfield in South Australia for more than 10 years. She takes great pride in her job, and she loves interacting with tenants and helping customers. To her, a clean shopping centre with happy customers is indicative of a good day’s work.
But Cathy only makes $16.57 an hour. In fact, her hourly wage has only gone up by $3 an hour in the 10 years she's been working. Cathy’s husband is disabled and can’t work. So, for less than $600 a week, Cathy and her husband try to survive.
Cathy is nearing her 65th birthday. But she’s well aware she won’t be able to retire then. Instead, because of her poverty level wages, she will continue working long after.
And the work is difficult. On an average day, Cathy walks 13 kilometres, all the while cleaning toilets, picking up rubbish, cleaning tables and food trays and whatever else needs to be done.
She works unpaid overtime, just to get the job done. Because to her, the most important thing is to ensure a safe and clean shopping centre for shoppers.
Every two or three years, her employer’s contract with the shopping centre owner will come to tender. And, at the blink of an eye, Cathy could lose her job. Her decade of experience won’t matter. Instead, costs and margins will determine her family’s future.
Sadly, Cathy’s story is not unique. Shopping centre cleaners around the country are being exploited. While shopping centre owners like Westfield and cleaning giants Spotless make millions every year, shopping centre cleaners struggle to get by on poverty wages.
They’re forced to frantically pace around, trying to keep the shopping centre clean for the hundreds of shoppers that walk in every day.
These cleaners have been trying for over a year to talk to their employers about the problems in retail cleaning — low wages, lack of job security, inadequate equipment and heavy workloads. But, at every step, they’ve been disregarded and disrespected—ignored by the bosses they keep profitable and in business.
Retail shopping centre cleaners have decided that enough is enough. They’re taking a stand by taking protected industrial action in shopping centres in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
Their actions started during the busy Christmas period. Cleaners walked off the job and forced those in charge to pay attention to their concerns.
Now, they’re continuing their fight. On the eve of Australia Day, hundreds of cleaners around the country walked off the job. They plan to do so again on February 1.
Cleaners intend to keep taking action until shopping centre owners and cleaning companies pay attention. It’s a difficult battle, as those who are typically ignored and marginalised stand up and try to be heard.
But, Cathy and her workmates know that is what is needed to win. And they’re committed to win.
Join us on February 1 as we stand alongside Cathy and her workmates in their struggle for justice.
[Michael Crosby is the national organising director of United Voice. Visit the Clean Start website for more information on the campaign.]