Melbourne laundry workers in a dispute with the embattled cleaning and catering giant Spotless Group say clean linen bound for city hospitals is kept in unhygienic areas while they are being exploited in "appalling Dickensian-type" conditions.
A group of employees have provided photographs to show unhygienic practices at the company's Abbotsford laundry, which employs 280 people and services major Melbourne hospitals, councils, hotels and businesses.
Some of the photos show a party with food apparently being held in the surgical linen folding room, where clean hospital linen is supposed to be kept in sterile condition to be returned to operating theatres.
Other photos show hospital linen bound for Western and Eastern Health in the dispatch area exposed to fluff and dust.
The workers also say they are screamed at, bullied, go without breaks, work unpaid overtime and are short-changed on their pay.
A spokeswoman for Spotless said the company was "fully" investigating the allegations.
Former worker, Arvin Babajee, 31, who is an international student from Mauritius, said dirty linen from hospitals, nappy wash services and hotel rooms is often kept for over a week, putting workers at risk of illness.
He has lodged a claim with Fair Work Australia alleging his hours were unfairly cut by half after he complained about not having breaks.
"The soiled linen and the clean linen is not separated and the spread of infection is unavoidable," he says. "The place is infested with insects."
"Their weapon is to drop hours and also use humiliation. The managers are very hard to approach because everyone is scared of getting bullied. They have no respect for anyone and people are suffering."
A spokeswoman for Spotless said the Abbotsford laundry was clean and "completely sanitised before the start of each shift, every day" and was independently audited and inspected twice a year.
These workers have described appalling Dickensian-type conditions with a racists slurs on top of that.Yarra Councillor Stephen Jolly
"Linen sorting, processes and hygiene are of the highest standards as you would expect, and are closely supervised, reviewed regularly and audited independently," the spokeswoman said.
She said claims of dirty linen lingering at the site were "simply untrue", and the longest turnaround it experienced are over weekend periods.
"To be clear, the fabric draped over the storage carts is protective – this is how our carts are arranged in storage.
"The commercial laundering of blankets, towels and sheets does create a lot of fluff and dust as you would expect – but there is a strict process in place to ensure each workspace is thoroughly clean before the start of each day."
But the spokeswoman did confirm a party was held at the laundry.
"There has been no parties or events planned by the business or the management inside this facility," she said.
"A staff member brought in some things to celebrate a colleague's birthday before the commencement of their shift. Management addressed the issue after being informed."
Former worker, Korlu Zarwue, 24, originally from Liberia, said she suffered racist abuse from managers who talked about "dark babies in Africa" and "her sort of people". "I went home and cried about it," she said of one such incident. "Those managers are very racist."
Another employee, who declined to be named, also has a pending Fair Work claim.
He alleges his hours were unfairly cut after he asked for lighter duties because of a minor back injury. He has since been reinstated.
"I was treated very badly and sent home for three days," he said. "It seems like people need to go to Fair Work just to get paid properly."
Other workers wanted to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs but backed up the claims of racial taunts, bullying and exploitation. They claim several workers fainted in the poorly ventilated and un-airconditioned factory during recent heat and another suffered a nose bleed.
The Spotless claims come amid a Senate inquiry into the exploitation of foreign workers, including systemic wage fraud in the 7-Eleven empire, exposed by Fairfax Media and Four Corners.
One in 10 workers in Australia are on a visa, the inquiry heard.
Spotless reported a $2.8 billion revenue last year, employs 39,000 people and services major clients such as the MCG, Melbourne Airport, the Western Australia Department of Housing and the New Zealand Defence Force.
However, it has had a horror month that saw its share price halved following a shock earnings downgrade.
The company blamed increased labour costs at newly acquired laundry businesses as one of the biggest contributors to the downgrade, as well as a delay and deferral of tender decisions across the business.
It was also embarrassed when Fair Work ordered a young whistleblower be reinstated last month. The man was sacked after appearing on the ABC's 7.30 report to expose the exploitation of cleaners that Spotless had subcontracted to work at Myer.
Yarra Councillor Stephen Jolly, who the Abbotsford workers first contacted for help, accused the company of "ripping off" local workers. .
"These workers have described appalling Dickensian-type conditions with a racists slurs on top of that," he said.
Chief executive Martin Sheppard, whose tenure began in November, said the company supported whistleblowers and was a "very proud employer of people from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds".
"Not for a second would this management team countenance any form of behaviour that disrespects any colleague on any basis," Mr Sheppard said.
"We take our responsibility to provide a safe and happy work environment very seriously," he said.
"We have in place comprehensive staff training courses, including training on professional behaviour, teamwork and anti-discrimination. We have a process for managing injury and risk which requires workers to rotate tasks regularly to avoid repetitive strain and injury."