School cleaners’ union threatens legal action against Victorian government after hours cut and jobs lost in contractor transition

School cleaners’ union threatens legal action against Victorian government after hours cut and jobs lost in contractor transition
  • PublishedDecember 19, 2023

School cleaners Mick Lynch and his wife face a bleak Christmas after Mick’s work hours were drastically cut back and his wife was not offered a contract at all.

Mr Lynch loves his “fantastic” job as one of 700 workers contracted to ISS, who have declined a 12-month contract extension offered by the Victorian School Building Authority to clean schools in Melbourne’s west and north-west.

Incoming contractors Serco and Tradeflex are due to take over from January next year, leaving current staff without pay over the holidays.

“Well I’m going to stress about this over Christmas instead of having a great time with the family. I’m going to be a bit worried, more so with me wife not being offered a contract,” Mr Lynch told ABC News. 

“But the amount of money I’m going to lose, it’s just unbelievable, it’s ridiculous.”

Contractors ‘expected to comply with Fair Work Act’

Work for the cleaners is due to wrap up this week and some cleaners do not know if they will have work next year.

Those who do have work have had their hours and rates of pay cut while workloads have increased.

The United Workers Union plans to take the state government to court over the contract handover, which they argue violates both the Fair Work Act and Occupational Health and Safety law. 

Lyndal Ryan pictured inside the United Workers Union building
Lyndal Ryan says the cleaners are owed entitlements.(Supplied: United Workers Union)

Lyndal Ryan, director of property services at United Workers Union, said the state government was complicit in workers’ hours being cut and their entitlements not being paid.

“So even people who have worked there for 25 years, even people with very long service are now facing a future where they’ll have to live on half the amount of hours or half the amount of money that they were earning before this change,” Ms Ryan said.

Ms Ryan said the union had proposed solutions to the government but if there were no reply within 48 hours, legal action would begin.

“We are concerned that the government is complicit in it, so when we do take legal action we will be looking at suing the Victorian government for their role in this terrible situation,” she said.

Tradeflex told ABC News that they were working with the existing cleaners and expected to offer 220 existing ISS workers roles across a range of level one, two and three positions.

“To be clear, Tradeflex does not use labour-hire workers across its schools cleaning business (excluding specialised cleaning tasks in limited cases) and is offering all candidates, including these former ISS workers, a range of permanent full-time and part-time work, based on the shift requirement per school and the level of experience required,” a spokesperson said.

To date, the company said it had offered formal contracts to 195 ISS workers and most of their staff would return to work on January 8, 2024.

A blonde woman wearing glasses speaks into an ABC-branded microphone.
Premier Jacinta Allan says all contractors are expected to comply with the Fair Work Act.( ABC News: Rosa Ritchie )

ABC News also contacted Serco, but the company referred the query back to the education department. 

A spokesperson for the education department said they required all contracted cleaning service providers to fully comply with their obligations under the Fair Work Act.

“We’re actively working with current and incoming school cleaning service providers to ensure a smooth transition process for schools and cleaning staff, with current arrangements to be in place until late December 2024,” the spokesperson said.

Premier Jacinta Allan said she expected all contractors to comply with their legal obligations and talks were taking place to resolve the issue.

“I’m advised there has been a company no longer providing these services and that there does need to be a transition to a new cleaning company and that those discussions are in place now to ensure there is a smooth transition,” Ms Allan said.

‘People have no job security’

Mr Lynch said the contract changeover was “a government stuff-up” and low-paid workers were being financially penalised for it.

“People have no job security, they don’t know if they’ve got a job, they don’t know what’s going to happen. 

“It’s just a continual nightmare until direct employment by the government, until they actually accept doing this,” he said.

Mr Lynch said he normally worked for six hours and the three hours he had been offered at a lower rate of pay were not enough time to get the job done.

“To cut that to three hours, that’s only a section of our school. To get three hours for our cleaners, mate, I tell you the kids are going to go into classrooms that are going to be filthy.  The toilets are not going to be cleaned,” he said.


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