Cleaners to lose work as government changes contractors
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Cleaners to lose work as government changes contractors

For more than four years his job has helped him settle into his new home in Australia, but cleaner Namgay Namgay isn't sure how he'll pay his daughter's school fees in two months.

He learnt he'll lose his job cleaning one of the federal government's buildings in Canberra after it changed contractors in July.

Nine cleaners from a group of 24 will go and others are expected to have their wages cut by $4 an hour, or 16 per cent, to the award rate as a new business takes over the contract for Department of Jobs and Small Business buildings around the national capital's Civic precinct.

Namgay Namgay won't have work from October after a new contractor took over cleaning services at government buildings.

Namgay Namgay won't have work from October after a new contractor took over cleaning services at government buildings.

Photo: Karleen Minney

"They have bills to pay. The stress they are going through is unimaginable," Mr Namgay said.

His job cleaning government offices was his first upon arriving in Australia from Bhutan four-and-a-half years ago, but his length of service has not saved him from losing work.

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Cleaners learnt their employer Asset Industries had lost the contract after seven years to Broadspectrum. The new contractor has engaged another, Jarrah Integrated Services, as a subcontractor. Mr Namgay said long-serving cleaners had been offered reduced hours and others would lose their jobs entirely. Some will have to move from day to night shifts.

"Some of them are on postgraduate visas right now, some of them have two children studying in high school, they're paying more than $20,000 on their high school," he said.

"When you lose your job, the bills don't stop."

The union representing cleaners, United Voice, said workers should not lose jobs under the new contractor, and that changes to shifts would disrupt the lives of those working second night jobs to make ends meet.

Prompcorp, a joint venture partner in Jarrah, said the company would move cleaning to mostly night shifts with limited day shifts for all but one building under the contract.

The company said it had always been transparent in its tender that it considered night shifts a more appropriate method to clean the sites.

Staff not offered positions under the new contract had failed to attend interviews or indicated they couldn't work night shifts, a spokesman said.

"Prompcorp is still working out the details of this handover, including in relation to pay. There is a meeting on Friday with the union in relation to certain issues the union has. More information will be known after this time," he said.

United Voice has raised the alarm about the company.

Prompcorp director Francis Xavier Scarce was director at two companies in 2015 when the Fair Work Ombudsman found they had subcontracted cleaning work at retailer Myer, and firms further down the subcontractor chain had underpaid cleaners.

RCS Cleaning Services had subcontracted work to a company, which in turn subcontracted to another firm that underpaid cleaners $6300 in less than a month. Subcontractors engaged by another company, Pioneer Cleaning Australia, left workers $12,000 out of pocket in six weeks.

United Voice ACT secretary Lyndal Ryan said an immediate halt should be put to Prompcorp's involvement in the federal government's cleaning contracts given the track record of Mr Scarce's other companies.

"It really is the salt in the wound that race-to-the-bottom cleaning contracts for Commonwealth government buildings are being dished out to the same old faces from companies that have already been mentioned in Fair Work Ombudsman press releases," she said.

"What kind of broken system is the government running that loyal cleaners are being pushed out of jobs they have held for up to seven years?" Ms Ryan said.

Prompcorp said Mr Scarce was not involved in the underpayments alleged by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

"Mr Scarce and Prompcorp are committed to paying workers all their entitlements in full and on time," its spokesman said.

The Department of Jobs and Small Business said cleaning services under the new contract must follow legal employment conditions, including rates of pay at the award rate.

"Some cleaning services will now be undertaken after hours to enable a more efficient approach to cleaning the department’s premises," a spokesman said.

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.