NSW school cleaners’ privatisation review gets underway

Government agrees to review school cleaning services as new report reveals NSW cleaners face one of the most dangerous occupations in the state.

The New South Wales government will review the contracting arrangements for school cleaning services following a report by The United Workers Union. 

The report on the contracting of school and whole-of-government cleaning services was released in February – coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the government outsourcing cleaning services in NSW schools.

The 7000 cleaners who work in NSW public schools, TAFEs and other state office buildings, will see their contracts expire at the end of year, prompting calls from the union for the Minns Government to deliver on its election promise to reverse the privatisation model.

United Workers Union Property Services Co-ordinator Linda Revill welcomed the review, saying NSW cleaners deserved to be treated better.

“We need an outcome that addresses the issues facing schools, parents and cleaners,” Revill said.

School cleaner Judith Barber addressed the NSW Labor Country Conference in Nowra on 18 February and gained support for a resolution for the state government “to commit to creating safe, secure, quality jobs for cleaners by transitioning the work currently performed under the whole of government cleaning contracts to a model of direct employment”.

Of the more than 2200 public schools in NSW, approximately 40 percent are in regional, rural or remote areas.

An education Portfolio Committee meeting on 20 February heard there were eight contracts across the state and the NSW government didn’t directly employ any cleaners at its 2200 sites. 

Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car said a commitment was given to the state’s school cleaners and acknowledged their working conditions were difficult. 

“We have committed to a review of school cleaning; that is underway,” Car told the Committee. “The United Workers Union is part of that review. When that is completed, we’ll be communicating with the community about that. But we’re reviewing that. I accept the complaints from school cleaners … The conditions put on them by the contract entered into by the previous Government were pretty unacceptable.”

Barber said the current contract model denied cleaners any meaningful ability to bargain for improved wages and conditions.

“Cleaners in NSW employed under the basic modern award entitlements are paid less than their peers in states like Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania who are directly employed by government,” she said. 

“The workforce is majority female, majority over 45, with a high proportion of immigrant, first nation and NESB [non-English speaking background] workers.”

The report is available to read on the United Workers Union website

Photo by Nguyen Khan-Ly (Unsplash)

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