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Inner-Melbourne cleaners consider strike acti -

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Inner-Melbourne cleaners consider strike action

The World Today - Thursday, 25 September , 2008 12:42:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

ELEANOR HALL: In Victoria, office workers are facing a less pleasant working environment as inner
city cleaners consider strike action.

The cleaners were about to be granted a four to five per cent pay increase but their union says
employers have now walked away from the deal.

Alison Caldwell has our report.

ALISON CALDWELL: Fifty-one-year-old Helen cleans a major office building in inner city Melbourne,
five days a week.

HELEN: A lot of people have the idea that, you know, in a building of 37 stories, that like some
little fairies come in during the night and do the work. Which is totally unbelievable but people
don't see the cleaners when they go in and do the cleaning.

ALISON CALDWELL: Helen used to clean private homes but the costs of running her own small business
were so high that she decided to clean office towers in the city. She's employed as a part-time
cleaner by a contractor who was hired by the building's owners.

On award wages, Helen travels into the city to work for just three-and-a-half hours a day. She says
she takes home around $200 a week.

HELEN: I collect rubbish, I vacuum, I dust, I wash the kitchen floors, wipe all the benches and all
the desks, and the workload is four average Australian houses per hour.

ALISON CALDWELL: So when is the last time you had a pay rise?

HELEN: Oh, about two years ago. It was something like 37 cents pay rise.

ALISON CALDWELL: On the verge of signing a collective agreement which would guarantee a wage rise
of between four and five per cent, the long-running negotiations collapsed two weeks ago.

Jess Walsh is with the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. She blames the

JESS WALSH: We've seen in recent years that the decisions of the Fair Pay Commission have really
sent cleaners backwards and they're struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line. The
cleaners accepted that pay offer and shortly thereafter it was withdrawn.

ALISON CALDWELL: In Victoria alone there are 10 major cleaning contractors who between them employ
about 2,000 cleaners, like Helen.

Negotiating on the employers' behalf was the industry group representative, the Building Service
Contractors Association of Australia.

Rodney Barnes is the national president of the BSCAA. He says it was the union that walked away
from the agreement.

RODNEY BARNES: We said to the union, let's go to the Industrial Relations Commission with an
agreement that has no pay rates in it. When the Fair Pay Commission does its second round of
negotiations as far as awards are concerned, it will be dealt with as far as an award modernisation
process is concerned.

ALISON CALDWELL: The union and a cleaner that I spoke to said that the Fair Pay Commission award
rulings really hadn't done cleaners any good at all, but you want to stay with that Fair Pay

RODNEY BARNES: The Fair Pay Commission will be the minimum that anyone would have to pay. What
we're looking at is the Australian Industrial Relations Commission coming down with a set of rates
that will bring parity between full-time and part-time cleaners over a five-year period.

Now that well may mean that full-time cleaners may get an increment of anywhere up to eight to 10
per cent increase per annum over the five-year period, per year, and part-timers may have to resort
to something like what the Fair Pay Commission has handed down which was round about 3.2 per cent.

ALISON CALDWELL: Do you think cleaners are well paid for what they do?

RODNEY BARNES: No employer associated with the cleaning industry thinks that cleaners are paid
enough. We all agree with the LHM approach that cleaners are definitely underpaid.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Rodney Barnes from the Building Service Contractors Association of Australia
ending Alison Caldwell's report.