The number of school cleaning contracts in Victoria will be significantly cut from next year in an effort to combat dodgy contractors and worker underpayments.
Minister for Education James Merlino announced on Friday, 11 August an overhaul of government school cleaner procurement, with a new model to be rolled out across Melbourne next year.
Under a new model, eight zones will be created across metropolitan Melbourne and a single cleaning contract will be awarded for all schools in each. The zone model is expected to also be rolled out across regional Victoria.
According to the Department of Education and Training, an “open and competitive tender process” will be run to appoint cleaning companies to the eight zones.
Successful companies will be required to recruit from the current Victorian government school cleaning workforce.
It comes after multiple investigations within the past 12 months have found vulnerable staff were being underpaid and mistreated.
A report released by United Voice in May, uncovered 81 per cent of school cleaners in Victoria were being paid below award wages. One cleaner was found to have been paid just $2.63 per hour cash in hand for her first week of work.
Thirty-two per cent were not being paid for all of their work and nearly one in five workers were working at schools under sham contracting arrangements, employed on ABNs and denied such basic entitlements as sick leave, annual leave and superannuation.
According to United Voice wage theft exceeds $10 million per year across Victoria’s 4000 state school cleaners.
At the time of the report’s release Jess Walsh, Victorian secretary of United Voice, described the findings as a “7-Eleven-style wage theft scandal”.
“Hundreds of fly-by-night contractors have free rein to steal wages from some of Victoria’s lowest paid workers, and use fear and intimidation to silence them,” Walsh said.
“This is industrial-scale wage theft. And it’s happening because the Department is utterly incapable of effectively monitoring these fly-by-night operators.”
It is understood the Victorian department was monitoring more than 700 contractors operating 1750 contracts, with schools required to appoint cleaning contractors approved by the Department’s centralised School Cleaning Panel.
In NSW, there are 11 school cleaning contracts across the state. In April, ACT schools were split into eight contracts, based on geographical location.
The Department of Education and Training said last week it will work with existing cleaning contractors to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements, with support available for small businesses.
“Cleaning staff are valued members of our school communities, and this new model will strengthen their working conditions and make sure they get a fair deal,” Merlino said.
“This new model will ensure schools get high quality cleaning services, principals are better supported to look after their schools and cleaners are treated fairly.”