Murray Bridge cleaners stand up to sham contracting

Murray Bridge cleaners stand up to sham contracting

Cleaners at Murray Bridge Marketplace shopping centre stood together when a change of cleaning contract showed they were being underpaid. 

In late 2014, a cleaning company called Pickwick won the cleaning contract for the Murray Bridge Marketplace shopping centre.

They hired new workers, and compelled them to provide an ABN. In 2015 cleaners were paid a flat rate of $19 an hour for any day of the year. They received no paid annual leave, no sick leave and so were effectively casual employees even though regularly rostered. They also received no superannuation.

The minimum Award rate is $23.08, plus penalty rates for weekends and public holidays. Cleaners at Murray Bridge Marketplace were not paid any penalty rates for working on these days.

In 2016, cleaners discovered their underpayment when they joined United Voice in January 2016.

United Voice Officials found that cleaners had been paid well below the minimum legal rate since being employed by Pickwick.

Some cleaners were underpaid up to $520 per fortnight for as long as 18 months.

When United Voice representatives raised the underpayment with Pickwick management,  they said that workers were actually employed by a company called VeriClean – which none of the cleaners had ever heard of. Pickwick management said this was for VeriClean to resolve – despite cleaners having been employed by Pickwick, having operated under Pickwick managers since 2014 whilst wearing a Pickwick uniform.

United Voice Officials then contacted the property management company for the site, Jones Lang LaSalle. When Jones Lang LaSalle was made aware of the issues, they acted responsibly. They required Pickwick to rectify the underpayment and required Pickwick to employ cleaners directly under the pay and conditions of the cleaning Services Award.

Pickwick conceded and began paying cleaners under the Award, but only on a casual probationary basis – despite their years of service and regular rostered hours.

At the time of print, United Voice representatives are working with the Fair Work Ombudsman to secure cleaners’ backpay and to win secure employment at the site, whoever their contractor may be.

Branch Secretary David Di Troia said, “Sham contracting is a serious problem for workers in the cleaning industry. Cleaners sometimes feel they don’t have the power to make changes at their workplace or question their conditions.

“As union members, workers can support each other to win fair treatment and better wages and conditions at work.

“Well done to the workers who took that step and stood up to the scourge of sham contracting in South Australia.”

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