Some of the country's lowest-paid workers could lose almost a quarter of their weekly wages in changes quietly introduced by the Abbott government.
Thousands of workers will be hit by the changes, which will strip $172 to $225 a week from pockets of full-time contract cleaners of government buildings.
The changes are among 9500 regulations to go under Prime Minister Tony Abbott's red tape ''repeal day'' on Wednesday. Buried in more than 50,000 pages of regulations and acts of Parliament to be scrapped is the revelation the government will abolish guidelines for cleaners employed on government contracts, starting on July 1.
The regulations are a form of collective bargaining introduced by Labor that lift the wages of workers hired by businesses that win government cleaning contracts by $4.53 to $5.93 an hour above the minimum wage. This takes a wage from $664 to $836 for a 38-hour week at level 1, and from $724 to $950 at level 3.
Cleaners' union United Voice would not comment on the changes before consulting members. It is understood the union was blindsided by the changes and is now desperately trying to negotiate with contractors and the government to mitigate the effects on its members.
Labor introduced the cleaning services guidelines in 2011 to tackle exploitation of vulnerable workers in contract cleaning. A 2010 Fair Work Ombudsman audit found 40 per cent of audited cleaning contractors did not comply with workplace laws. It recovered almost $500,000 for 934 underpaid workers.
But, with those changes being scrapped, cleaners on government jobs will again be paid the award.
The Department of Employment says the changes will remove the different rates of pay in private and government work.
''Cleaning services providers tendering for government work from 1 July, 2014, will still be required to comply with all relevant workplace laws and the modern awards set by the Fair Work Commission,'' it said.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten dubbed the change a ''stinker''.
''Tony Abbott's version of red tape reduction is to cut the pay of some of Australia's lowest-paid workers,'' Mr Shorten said. ''I don't understand why the Prime Minister is happy to pocket a pay rise every year, but is forcing the person cleaning his office to take a pay cut.
''Stripping away workers' rights is bad enough, but trying to sneak this in without being upfront with these workers is unforgivable.''
A spokesman for Employment Minister Eric Abetz said: ''There are very strong legal protections and safeguards for workers in the industry contained in the Fair Work Act 2009 and the modern awards system.
''The Fair Work Ombudsman will further increase its activity to ensure cleaning services workers are aware of and receiving their correct legal entitlements,'' the spokesman said.
''The fair work principles and cleaning services guidelines had no broad impact on workers in the industry - it simply created inequitable and isolated benefits for a small subset of employees.''
Starting on July 1, the government will also scrap rules that require businesses winning government contracts to declare they comply with the Fair Work Act.