Key test of credibility for next Education Minister

The first credibility test for the new Education Minister will be to address the serious and systematic exploitation of school cleaners in ACT schools.

School cleaners, many who are refugees and from non-English speaking backgrounds, have experienced serious exploitation, wage theft and safety issues. Unions first brought these matters to former Minister Burch’s attention in July 2015, but no action has been taken.

The ACT Government contracts school cleaning to a number of contract cleaning companies. Unions raised concerns about underpayments amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, sham-contracting, discriminatory behaviour by company management, and failure to adhere to work-health and safety requirements.

Unions have called on the ACT Government to terminate contracts with non-compliant cleaning contractors and engage ethical contractors in ACT schools.

The following statements can be attributed to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“The very first priority for the new Education Minister must be to provide relief to these badly mistreated school cleaners.

“It is to the ACT Government’s discredit that the exploitation of these hard-working cleaners has been unresolved since July last year.

“Many of the mistreated cleaners are refugees, and their first experience of the ACT has been appalling treatment, wage-theft and unsafe working conditions.

“Joy Burch was unfortunately unwilling or unable to get the Education Directorate to follow its own policies, despite substantial evidence presented of wrongdoing by the contractors.

“The next Education Minister’s test of credibility will whether they terminate the contracts of these dodgy cleaning contractors and start respecting the ACT’s hardworking school cleaners.”