COVID will continue to pose a significant health and welfare threat to Australian business operators, schools, public venues, and major sites unless the cleaning industry is granted a temporary increase in student visa working hours from 20 to 40 hours per week, says Quayclean CEO Mark Piwkowski.
Last May, the Federal Government approved student visa working hours to increase from 20 to 40 hours per week in tourism, hospitality, aged care, disability, and other health related industries.
The unintentional ramifications of the government’s decision are that the cleaning industry is now facing a critical growing shortage of labour as student visa holders are leaving the cleaning industry to accept employment in sectors where they are lawfully permitted to work double the hours.
Piwkowski said he remains mystified why the cleaning industry was not granted a temporary relaxation of working hours for student visa holders.
“At a time where the Delta variant is infecting thousands of Australian each day, we believe the cleaning industry, particularly hygiene cleaning, is critical to the health and welfare of Australian communities and to Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic,” said Piwkowski.
“We have written to Alex Hawke, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs requesting the government extends student visa working hours from 20 to 40 hours per week in line with other industries.
“Student visa holders comprise at least 30 per cent of cleaning workers – a rate which is even higher in regional areas,” he said.
“At Quayclean, where our 2200 workforce are fully employed under the modern award and are not sub-contracted or labour hire staff, 60 per cent of our employees are student visa holders.
“But following changes to increase student working hours, almost 200 of our employees have resigned and accepted work in industries where they can work up to 40 hours per week.
“In basic terms, the government’s temporary relaxation of student visa hours is robbing Peter (the cleaning industry) of staff to pay Paul (the tourism, hospitality, aged care, disability, and other health related sectors),” added Piwkowski.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning staff have been categorised as frontline workers and have been the critical “ground zero” workforce.
It has been these unidentified masked cleaners who have quickly attended COVID infected locations, such as large apartment complexes, retail centres, schools, and other public venues, put aside their own personal health risks, donned head-to-toe PPE equipment, and entered these infected sites to disinfect and decontaminate venues to allow a speedy return to occupancy or operation.
“Without the cleaning workforce disinfecting and decontaminating venues on an ongoing daily basis, the economic ramifications to the nation and to businesses plus the disruption to their daily operations would plunge the overall financial cost of the pandemic deeper into the red,” said Piwkowski.
With single and double dose vaccinations climbing to higher rates, governments are now preparing for life living with COVID in the months ahead.
“Apart from double vaccinations, the other best way to prevent the future spread of COVID is by ensuring that high traffic workplaces, retail centres, restaurants, bars, hotels, schools, public transport, and other business sites are regularly and thoroughly disinfected and decontaminated by trained cleaners,” said Piwkowski.
“If these sites cannot be thoroughly disinfected and decontaminated because of labour shortages, government runs the high risk of further COVID outbreaks, forcing businesses to close once again and crippling the economic recovery.
“There will be little need to have student visa holders temporarily working in tourism, hospitality, aged care, disability, and other health related industries if these working venues are not professionally cleaned and free of the virus in the first instance,” he added.
With the vaccination rate climbing, more major events such as sport, festivals and tourism sites will allow patrons to return to these public locations.
However, Piwkowski said it is essential that there is an adequate supply of cleaning staff to ensure these major public venues can be safely attended by the community.
“We believe the lack of parity for the cleaning industry regarding the temporary relaxation of students working visa hours poses a significant risk to the health of communities across Australia and to the economic recovery of the nation,” said Piwkowski.
“Furthermore, we are of the firm belief that the current imbalance in student working visa hours will have a far more enduring impact when restrictions are further eased when more and more Australians have received two vaccinations.
“We fear that once visa working hours returns to 20 hours per week for all industry and business sectors that it may prove difficult to entice student visa holders to return to the cleaning industry,” he added.
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