Fair Work Ombudsman announces contract cleaning as compliance and enforcement priority

Contract cleaning sector to be a new compliance and enforcement priority in 2021-22.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has announced the regulator’s strategic priorities for the year ahead, with the key focus supporting workplaces as they manage the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

Speaking at a Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) roundtable meeting, Parker said the contract cleaning sector was a new compliance and enforcement priority this year.

“Intelligence indicates that contract cleaning is part of an industry with large proportions of migrant workers, low paid and part-time workers, who we know are at higher risk of exploitation,” Parker said.

“The sector also has a significant history of non-compliance, which, combined with an expected quick recovery due to increased demand for COVID-19-safe cleaning practices, makes it a sector to monitor closely,.

Fast food, restaurants and cafes and horticulture remain a key focus of activities in 2021-22. Parker said investigating large corporate underpayments also remained a priority for the regulator.

“We are investigating more than 80 corporate sector employers for underpayments of workers. We recently commenced litigation against Woolworths, where we seek to recover backpayments we allege may be owed to about 19,000 employees. We expect to take further high-level enforcement action against a range of large corporates this year, and urge them to prioritise compliance.”

Parker said the regulator recognised the crucial importance of small businesses to the nation’s economic recovery from COVID-19, and would continue to prioritise assistance to these employers.

A wake up call for property owners, says ACCR 

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) has welcomed the announcement by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) that the contract cleaning sector will be a new compliance and enforcement priority in 2021-22, highlighting historic non-compliance in the sector and the vulnerability of the largely migrant workforce.

“The Ombudsman’s announcement is a wake up call for property owners and their investors that exploitation remains a serious issue in the sector,” Dr Katie Hepworth, ACCR Director of Workers’ Rights said.

“The commercial cleaning sector is widely acknowledged as high risk for labour exploitation and modern slavery. From underpayment to excessive working hours, sexual harassment and even assault, the challenges in the sector means property owners must genuinely work with all stakeholders to improve work conditions.

“Property owners are relying on due diligence mechanisms that decades of evidence show will fail to pick up instances of modern slavery and labour abuses in their supply chains.

“Their cosmetic compliance may lead to a loss of rental income as tenants move to property owners that are taking effective measures to deal with potential wage theft and modern slavery in their cleaning supply chains.

“Only one model in the market delivers effective compliance, the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF). Responsible property owners, Australian Super, ISPT, and CBUS Property have announced that they will certify their whole retail and office portfolios through CAF.

“If property owners do not utilise that framework then investors must demand that property owners demonstrate the effectiveness of alternative approaches.”

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