Industry urges student visa working hours to be extended

Commercial cleaning CEOs warn of exodus in cleaning staff following changes to worker visa laws.

The CEO of a national cleaning company has warned that the government’s recent changes to allow eligible student visa holders to work uncapped hours in the hospitality and tourism sectors will lead to an exodus of workers in the cleaning industry.

The Federal Government recently announced it will remove existing work hour caps for student visa holders employed  in hospitality, aged care, tourism and for NDIS providers. A 40-hour fortnightly limit previously applied during study periods.

In addition, temporary visa holders will be able to access the 408 COVID-19 Pandemic Event Visa for a period of 12 months if they work in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Temporary visa holders working in, or intending to work in, tourism and hospitality will be able to apply for the 408 COVID-19 Visa up to 90 days before their existing visa expires and then remain in Australia for up to 12 additional months.

New changes will leave hotels, offices vulnerable to outbreaks, says Cleancorp CEO

Lisa Macqueen, CEO of Cleancorp, said the changes will leave the hotel industry and offices vulnerable to COVID outbreaks, as students leave the cleaning industry in search of uncapped hours elsewhere so they can earn considerably more.

“The knock-on effect will impact international hotels around Australia, the majority of which are cleaned by independent cleaning companies, as well as offices, which are beginning to fill with employees.

“Airports and community areas will also see the impact. It is an extremely busy time for the cleaning industry while we are struggling to find workers.”

Macqueen believes the $12 billion cleaning industry[1] has been forgotten by the government initiative, and is calling on Minister for Home Affairs, Alex Hawke, to include the cleaning sector in its new visa rule change as student visa rules for the industry remain capped at 20 hours per week.

The cleaning industry in Australia is one of the largest employers of students, who make up at least 30 per cent of workers – even higher in regional areas. It comprises more than 32,000 businesses who employs more than 150,000 people.[2]

“This visa rule change has seen students migrate to other critical industries, as this makes more financial sense to them. Health care, agriculture and aged care are considered as industries employing frontline workers,” Macqueen said.

“During the pandemic, cleaners were also categorised as frontline workers, but now we have been ushered to the back of the line. The cleaning industry must be seen as a critical industry and included in the changes.”

Macqueen said the shortage is already being felt. To date, Cleancorp has lost 20 per cent of its workers to other sectors.

“My colleagues within the industry are experiencing the same losses. The law has not been thought out.

“With the recent outbreaks in Melbourne, businesses will want COVID-response cleaning and we have to act quickly. The shortage of cleaners will push up cleaning prices.”

Macqueen said that if hotels, offices, airports and community organisations cannot source cleaning services when they need it, they will also not be able to bring cleaners onto their own payroll.

Quayclean CEO warns of long term effects on cleaning industry workforce 

Quayclean Australia CEO Mark Piwkowski has also formally expressed his concerns in letters to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison,  Alex Hawke, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, and Karen Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs.

Hiring more than 2200 workers across Australia under its fully employed model, Quayclean provide cleaning, hygiene. and waste management services to more than 215 major public sites including the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Racing Club, Parliament House in Victoria, Perth Zoo, Sydney Olympic Park, Marvel Stadium, Adelaide Oval, the SCG and Gabba, plus over 70 private schools.

Piwkowski said changes to student visa holders has had an immediate detrimental impact on Quayclean’s business and the wider cleaning industry during a time when COVID-19 outbreaks continue to arise.

Piwkowski said student visa holders comprise a large part of the cleaning industry workforce, but they are now walking away from cleaning employment, where they are regulated to only 20 hours per week, in favour of working in tourism and hospitality.

“60 per cent of our employees are student visa holders who have indicated that their new-found ability to work 80 hours per fortnight in the tourism and hospitality sector means they need to consider their options,” said Piwkowski.

“Employees have resigned and accepted work that allows them to take advantage of the additional working hours and it may prove difficult to entice these workers back to the cleaning industry after the student working visa hours limit in the tourism and hospitality sector is reinstated.

“While the relaxation of the working hours limit might be temporary, we are concerned that the effect on our industry’s workforce will be far more enduring,” said Piwkowski.

“We believe the government should prevent further damage to the cleaning industry by allowing our student workers the same rights as those in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Indeed, without a strong cleaning industry providing preventative hygiene services, the tourism and hospitality sector cannot thrive,” he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of cleaning services to all aspects of public life. We cannot afford for this industry to be deprived of the dedicated, hardworking staff that have served the Australian public so well over the past 15 months,” he added.

At the time of the government’s announcement, Minister for Home Affairs, Alex Hawke, said the changes build on the government’s support for sectors that are critical to economic recovery.

“Government has listened carefully to the states, territories and industry and is introducing these changes to support critical sectors for Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery,” Hawke said.

“I am continuing to take feedback and advice from a range of sectors and will make further announcements on temporary visa flexibility measures and priority skills in the near future,” Hawke said.

[1] https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/

[2] https://www.ibisworld.com/au/industry/commercial-cleaning-services/574/

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