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Issue #1532      25 January 2012

Retail cleaners walk the East Coast of Australia in one year

A report by United Voice, the cleaners’ union, finds that due to the crisis in Australia’s shopping centres, cleaners are being forced to walk the distance from Cairns to Warrnambool in one year, with some walking nearly a half marathon in a day, while also being required to clean up spills, keep toilets sanitary and safe and maintain proper health and safety standards for the shopping public.

The report which highlights the stress and pressure suffered by cleaners is based on a study done by United Voice of cleaners in retail shopping centres across the country. Cleaners wore a pedometer on shift, and their step count was recorded daily. The striking results find that, with all participants combined, cleaners do enough to circle the earth’s equator 1.27 times.

Louise Tarrant, the union’s national secretary, said that these intense workloads were the direct result of cost cutting and exploitation of cleaners.

“There’s a race to the bottom in contract cleaning, with shopping centre owners, like Westfield, cutting cleaning contracts, and irresponsible cleaning contractors like Spotless following suit and cutting bids.

“This means that there is fewer staff on the floor; fewer people to do the actual work. This forces the cleaners on the floor to be literally run off their feet trying to get their work done in short, timed rotations, sometimes as short as five minutes. For all this walking, cleaning companies and building owners won’t pay decent wages.”

The union warns that there are health and safety catastrophes waiting to happen in shopping centres. At the moment, the catastrophes are for cleaners who are suffering from the second highest injury rates — only lower than those working in concrete construction. It’s not surprising with such high workloads.

“One cleaner told us that she had to clean 35 toilets in 20 minutes,” said Ms Tarrant. “Could you do that? Could you believe a toilet was actually clean if it was only cleaned so quickly? These high workloads mean that the centre isn’t as clean as a cleaner would like, but it also raises the question of whether a centre is clean enough for shoppers.”  

Next article – ANF welcomes extra funding

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