BIC Cleaning Services accused of underpaying workers by $450,000

One of Sydney's largest cleaning companies, BIC Cleaning Services, has been accused of systematically underpaying its cleaners by almost half a million dollars, reported the ABC on 16 December
United Voice secretary Mel Gatfield
United Voice secretary Mel Gatfield

One of Sydney’s largest cleaning companies, BIC Cleaning Services, has been accused of systematically underpaying its cleaners by almost half a million dollars, reported the ABC on 16 December.

‘BIC, which has a 35 percent market share of the cleaning contracts in Sydney’s CBD, has been taken to the Federal Circuit court by the cleaners’ union, United Voice, with claims of underpayments and breaches of the Fair Work Act. The union said it had identified underpayments of about $450,000.’

The ABC’s national flagship current affairs program 7.30 spoke with three cleaners on student visas who all said they had been underpaid.

‘United Voice said international students, who can only work 20 hours a week, were particularly vulnerable to the exploitation.

‘One cleaner, Khan, whose legal name is Cheeravit Piyaworatammakoon, arrived in Australia from Thailand on a student visa in October and said he worked for three weeks but was never paid. “I did not get any money, not at all,” Khan told 7.30. “As I did not work for the whole month as agreed, he told me, therefore he could not pay me.

“I was really, really shocked, because in my mind I think that Australia is a country where the law is very strict. But I couldn’t believe that it could happen in Australia.”

‘BIC denied his claims, saying Khan walked off the job and did not go to the head office to complete his payment forms. The company said he would be paid if he went to the head office,’ the ABC reported.

Another cleaner, Omnarayan Sharma, who worked for the company in 2013, said he was only paid four hours a night despite working up to six hours a night to get the job done. “I was doing the toilet cleaning with BIC, I used to clean nine levels with seven shower screens and they used to give me four hours a day, which was not possible to finish,” he said.

“It was like two people’s job and I had to work more than five hours a day to finish your day. They used to yell on us, they used to scold us, they used to push us to do extra jobs which used to take a lot of our time, and they didn’t pay us properly.

“I just feel very bad about that but I couldn’t do anything as I had only one job and I am a student,” he added. “I had to survive in Australia and I just had to keep quiet and go on.”

‘BIC denied the underpayments and said Mr Sharma was fully paid and left the company happy, writing a letter thanking the company for his job. It also claimed he talked on his phone during work hours and did not complete the tasks he was assigned.’

BIC chief executive Dimitra Tsiamis said the union had blackmailed the company and was grossly exaggerating the claims of underpayment. “The union are simply attacking the company that’s trying to do the right thing,” she told 7.30. “Instead of trying to threaten and blackmail us, United Voice should clean up their act.”

Ms Tsiamis said the union threatened to go public if the company did not sign the renewed Cleanstart agreement that requires cleaners be paid higher wages.

“We are not saying we are always perfect but we are drawing a line at being threatened and blackmailed into signing an agreement that does not have the support of most cleaning companies, the entire property industry or government tender processes,” she said

United Voice secretary Mel Gatfield said BIC was just one fragment of a broken industry. “I say that employers like BIC and others have a responsibility to pay the correct wages that people earn, we’re not asking for anything more,” she said.

“We want them to sit down with us and pay what cleaners deserve. Cleaners do a hard job, cleaning our offices. It’s the employers’ responsibility to pay wages correctly.”

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