‘The ACT government has renewed a school cleaning contract to a company accused of underpaying and taking advantage of refugee workers, without waiting for the results of its own internal investigation’, reported The Canberra Times on 22 June 2016.
The decision to extend the cleaning contract to Phillips Cleaning Services has prompted angry criticism from United Voice, with ACT secretary Lyndal Ryan describing the decision as “unfathomable”.
“I’m beyond words,” Ms Ryan said. “I don’t know what [the company] would have to have done to these workers for the government to think ‘we actually don’t want a contract with a company that’s unethical’.”
United Voice ‘launched the case on behalf of 22 workers, alleging in court documents that some are owed almost $25,000. The union’s case also alleges that refugees from Myanmar and Thailand, who spoke little English, were signed to contracts they did not understand, and individual workers were variously paid from different business entities without explanation’.
Phillips Cleaning Services (PCS) have vehemently denied the underpayment and mistreatment claims. Spokesman for the company, Sam Cassaniti said that ‘an audit had cleared the company of any underpayment issues’.
“If PCS did not have the benefit of its cleaning contracts, it would have no need for labour, including union members,” he said.
“It is true that PCS and the union do not have a harmonious relationship. However, PCS did not realise that the union was so actively advocating against matters affecting their own members’ interests.”
Education Minister Shane Rattenbury organised his directorate to conduct its own inquiry; so far, the investigation has not found any clear breach of contract.
“The government remains committed to ensure that all workers have fair and safe working conditions and will use the mechanisms provided in the contract to monitor compliance with industrial relations obligations,” said Mr Rattenbury.
“If there is a serious breach of contract conditions, the government is able to terminate the contract where rectification is not possible.”
However, Ms Ryan has argued that ‘the government should not be treating the allegations with the same standard of proof required in a court’.
“It is outrageous that these workers, most of them with limited English, are being forced by the directorate to meet the same legal standard of proof as a court of law,” she said.
“They have had their employment rights trashed; but because it happens out of sight it is well and truly out of the minds of the decision makers.”