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Wednesday, 18 June 2003
Page: 16895

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (7:39 PM) —I rise to touch upon two very important things that have occurred recently. I would like to make reference to International Justice for Cleaners Day, which took place this week. This is a campaign that lobbies employers and companies to provide better conditions for their cleaning work force. Some may know that this campaign started in the mid-eighties in the United States where there are a large number of working poor people who have to work full time for very little money. Indeed, some find themselves below the poverty line even when they work in excess of 40 or 50 hours.

This international day, which was commemorated this week, highlights a very important moment for very low-paid workers who have not been properly recognised. Therefore, I congratulate those unions—in particular, the LHMU—that raised this matter in the Australian context. As I understand it, the Australian leg of the campaign this year focused on cleaning staff at Westfield shopping malls. The rights of the low-paid are of critical significance in this country, and this government does not pay them much regard. It is very important, particularly in the context of having such a conservative and antiworker government, that we recognise the plight of low-paid workers and their efforts to improve their conditions and their lot in this community.

The other matter is somewhat related although a bit more provincial, or a bit closer to home. It is on the same theme. I refer to the success, only last week, of childcarers in Victorian councils who, by way of settlement, won their work value case before the Industrial Relations Commission. They were led by the Australian Services Union, of which I am a former official, so I know many of these employees.

As most people would know, childcarers are fantastic contributors to society. They undertake the care of our children, and therefore they undertake the care of our future, in some senses. When compared with other professionals or semiprofessionals—depending on where they sit in their qualifications—childcarers have been very badly paid historically. If you compare, for example, their qualifications against any other kind of qualification to try to find a decent work value, you will find they have been undervalued in a major way.

This case, which has given wage increases of up to $150 to these workers, sets not a precedent—because it was a settlement—but the right benchmark for where childcare workers deserve to be in this country—that is, in a position comparable to other professional groups. Those that have resisted that may, of course, be disappointed. But I know this: there are 1,500 childcarers in Victoria who are very happy tonight, and many thousands of others will believe that one day soon they will be rewarded according to their efforts, skills and responsibility. I congratulate those workers, and, in particular, the ASU and the ACTU, for their role in that case.

In the end, as always, the most important facet of the struggle to get decent recognition is borne by the workers themselves. They are the ones who have been campaigning and talking to the parents, the users of the service and the community at large to try to highlight the fact that they have been unfairly recognised historically. This decision, or settlement, properly recognises them now in a manner which they deserve. I only hope that soon the rest of the childcarers across this country will be properly recognised in the same way and will be afforded a decent income—which they truly deserve, given that they undertake the care of our children and therefore, in some ways, the care of our future.