Cleaning industry, a dirty business for International students

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Investigation by cleaners union reveals they are underpaid and overworked

The cleaning industry seems to be getting murkier by the day for international students as they are becoming major victims of scams wherein they lose up to $15000 a year in wages and benefits.

Office cleaners working in Melbourne’s CBD are routinely subjected to wage rip-offs, exploitation and verbal abuse, a covert investigation by cleaners union United Voice has revealed. The investigation has also revealed that international students are the major victims of this scam.

The report reveals that deep inside our grandest, shiniest office towers is a secret world rife with bullying, intimidation and fear and that students working as cleaners are subject to exploitation and are under extreme stress in terms of job insecurity.

The report has also found that some office tower owners are duped of up to $150000 a year by cleaning firms promising to pay their staff $24.35 an hour but instead pay only $15 or less.

An earlier survey found that more than half the cleaners employed in the CBD are international students. Many of the international students employed in cleaning were born in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Colombia. The investigation found that some are paid as little as $15 an hour, $9.35 an hour below the rate paid under the Clean Start city-wide agreement struck in 2009. It is also $7 below the award.

Figures released recently revealed that fees and living expenses for international students averaged $38,000 annually, and that Australia was a more expensive educational destination than the US and the UK. Data from Australian Education International showed student numbers down 20 per cent from their peak three years ago.

Jess Walsh United Voice state secretary said, “Glad Group, one of the biggest companies responsible for the cut price subcontracting of cleaners in the CBD, must commit to eradicating the practice.”

‘A Dirty Business – The Exploitation of International Students in Melbourne’s Office Cleaning Industry’, a report on the cleaning industry released by United Voice, also found that the overseas students, who are part of a $15 billion national education export industry, are regularly subjected to bullying, intimidation and racism, and threatened with the sack if they discuss their plight.

Walsh warned that the abuse of international students could inflict major damage to the education industry. The solution is to treat all cleaners equally as proposed in Clean Start 2013.

“Cut price subcontractors, working for companies like the Glad Group, have created poisonous environments to hide illegally low wages and other abuses. The ‘ghost workers’ who do this work are some of the most vulnerable members of our community: migrants and international students who often don’t know their rights,” said Walsh.

“This appalling situation has come about because ‘reputable’ companies, such as the Glad Group, are cutting corners by subcontracting to unscrupulous fly-by-night outfits that underpay and abuse their workers. We call on major companies, like the Glad Group, to show leadership in cleaning up this industry by committing to new Clean Start collective agreements,” he added.

“We want cleaning companies to clean up their act by no longer resorting to dodgy subcontractors and pay all cleaners the same. A significant proportion of contractors have indicated they will recommit to Clean Start, but major players like Glad must do so too. We were shocked by the findings of this investigation. Alarm bells should be ringing in our universities and colleges. If not stopped, this exploitation of students will threaten the long term future of Australia’s international education industry,” he added.

As per the report, 62 percent of Indians think Australia remains a dangerous place for Indian students.
The seven-month covert investigation across 100 of Melbourne’s largest office buildings found that about half the contractors operating in the CBD engage sub-contractors for part of their work, and this is where abuse occurs. Inquiries began after union organisers heard anecdotally about international students working for sub-contractors who were known to under-pay and to deny basic employment conditions.

The way to end the abuse is to treat cleaners equally by ensuring the Clean Start agreement applies to all, whether they are employed by contractors or by sub-contractors. Extending Clean Start to all workers will destroy the incentive for the rip-offs exposed by the United Voice investigation.

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