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School cleaners to be back-paid after FWO investigation

A Melbourne cleaning company that underpaid visa holders has signed an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to improve compliance and back-pay workers.

Melbourne-based Veracity Property Services engaged two Sri Lankan workers as part of its sub-contracting arrangement to provide cleaning services to a southeast Melbourne government school. The workers held a skilled 457 visa and bridging visa.

While the cleaning company regarded the workers as independent contractors, the FWO determined the two Sri Lankan workers as part-time employees and thus covered by the Cleaning Services Award 2010.

Veracity’s failure to pay the minimum wage for ordinary hours, part-time loading, afternoon shift work penalty and minimum engagement entitlements under the award led to total underpayments of $1604 between July and September last year.

The Enforceable Undertaking requires Veracity to audit the pay and conditions of all its employees and engage an external professional to assess whether any other of its independent contractors have been misclassified.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said companies are legally required to categorise workers correctly so they do not miss out on their entitlements.

“The Enforceable Undertaking will require Veracity to substantially improve its compliance with workplace laws in order to protect current and future workers,” she said.

“We investigated this company as part of our compliance activity into the cleaning supply chain for metropolitan and regional Victorian government schools. Cleaners can be some of the most vulnerable workers in Australia, particularly visa holders.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman will continue to target industries where we are concerned about the underpayment of overseas workers, as they can be particularly vulnerable and reluctant to request our assistance.”

In addition to the employees audit and independent contractor assessments, the Enforceable Undertaking requires the company to ensure that all staff with responsibility for human resources, recruitment or payroll functions undertake workplace relations training and complete the Fair Work Ombudsman’s online training.

Veracity must publish a notice regarding the Enforceable Undertaking in the Progress Leader. It must also display a notice about this in all workplaces it operates in or services, including an apology for its contraventions. The company must send letters of apology to the two workers.

The company must also, within one month of the undertaking being signed, provide a copy of time and wage records and payslips for one employee that comply with workplace laws.

Veracity’s contract with the head contractor cleaning company expired in June 2018 following Victorian Government changes to the model of school cleaning that took effect on 1 July 2018,  in an effort to stamp out dodgy contractors and worker underpayments.

Under the new school cleaning reform, metropolitan Melbourne has been divided into eight separate service areas, each of which is serviced by a single cleaning contractor appointed by the Department of Education and Training.

The eight zones have been awarded to five major contractors; Menzies Facility Services, Tradeflex, Shining Knight Facility Services, ISS Facility Services and Spotless Integrated Facilities Services.

Last week Victorian Education Minister James Merlino ordered an audit into state government school cleaning contracts following reports cleaners have had their pay cut and hours reduced under the new cleaning contract reforms.

www.fairwork.gov.au

INCLEAN has contacted Veracity Property Services for comment. 

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