Most industry observers have been awaiting fall out from Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) audits that were conducted on CBD sites as far back as late 2009. We are now finally witnessing some official action with its concomitant negative publicity.
Two major Sydney-based building service contractors were named in a Sydney Sun Herald (10 June 2012) feature article, written by Jim O’Rourke.
The Sun Herald article focused on the plight of students ‘caught up in dirty deals in the cleaning industry’.
‘International students brought to Sydney to boost the NSW economy and who work graveyard shifts cleaning city office buildings are said to be being paid as little as $10 an hour.
‘Contract cleaning companies are also accused of forcing students and travellers on working holiday visas to accept illegal cash-in-hand payments to keep them “off the books”,’ wrote O’Rourke.
United Voice, which has been working against illegal employment practices on a number of both federal and state department fronts, noted that, ‘it has run dozens of cases for students from countries including Nepal, Thailand and Chile who were cheated out of entitlements such as superannuation, sick leave and paid overtime.’
Other allegations made in the Sun Herald article include students forced to pay secret commissions to keep their jobs; supervisors and subcontractors threatening them with the sack if they refuse to work unpaid hours; and forcing those who take a sick day to pay for their replacements out of their own wages.
In early March 2012 the FWO announced that it was ‘prosecuting a national cleaning company, alleging it underpaid 32 Sydney cleaners – including many foreign workers – more than $130,000.
‘Facing court is the Glad Group Pty Ltd, which holds cleaning contracts for more than 100 office buildings around the country, including Deutsche Bank Place on Phillip Street, Sydney,’ stated the FWO media release.
In prosecution documents lodged in Court, the FWO ‘alleges that Glad Group has admitted to underpaying the workers and has reimbursed all those employees it has been able to locate. A small number cannot be found.’
The case was listed for a hearing on 9 March in Sydney’s Federal Magistrates Court. According to the Sun Herald story, a penalty hearing is set down for 1 August.