ACT public school cleaners win over workplace dispute

United Voice has succeeded in protecting cleaners rights following a decision to terminate agreements United Voice claims were signed by cleaners who didn't understand English.
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United Voice has successfully protected the rights of ACT public school cleaners after commission deputy president John Kovacic dismissed two cleaning companies’ applications to terminate agreements with cleaners the union claims were pressured into signing documents they didn’t understand.

On 26 April 2016, The Canberra Times reported that United Voice appealed to the ACT government last year to terminate the contracts of two companies – Phillips Cleaning Services and Rose Cleaning Service – which ‘it accused of underpaying workers more than $500,000 over several years’.

In June, the companies applied to the Fair Work Commission to cancel ‘three rolling clean start enterprise agreements, which had promised higher pay rates and better conditions for the city’s government-contracted cleaners’.

United Voice opposed the bid and argued that the employees would ‘lose benefits they were entitled to under the existing agreements, which included some redundancy provisions, paid public holidays and four-hour minimum engagements’.

The union also added that ‘in some cases migrant workers who didn’t understand English didn’t have those documents explained to them in a way they could understand’.

Last month, Mr Kovacic ruled in favour of the union.

“While the petitions lodged by Rose Cleaning Service suggested that a majority of employees wanted the agreements to be scrapped, there was no evidence before the commission to back it up, meaning little weight could be attached to those documents,” Mr Kovacic said.

“For instance, given the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the signatories to the petitions, no evidence was lead regarding whether or not employees were informed of the implications of termination, how that explanation was provided and whether or not they comprehended what those implications meant for them.”

Lyndal Ryan, ACT branch secretary for United Voice has welcomed the decision, saying that “it meant the union had been able to guard the employees’ rights this time.”

“The union has succeeded in protecting those worker’s rights and it’s incredibly important for that group of workers to be protected by law,” Ms Ryan said.

The Canberra Times also noted that ‘the government was aware of the union’s concerns and the directorate would continue to investigate its claims to ensure all workers had access to fair and safe working conditions’.

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