School cleaners threatening legal action over pay cuts

The Victorian government has been given an ultimatum - ensure hundreds of school cleaners keep the same pay and conditions - or go to court. 

The United Workers Union will launch proceedings against the government unless it directs incoming contractors Tradeflex and Serco to retain 700 Victorian cleaners on the same hours and conditions from January 15.

Outgoing company ISS, has pulled out of a one-year extension of its contract in Melbourne’s western and north-eastern suburbs, leaving cleaners without a job just days before Christmas. 

The union says the new contractors won't start hiring cleaners to work until January 15 and will cut existing pay rates and hours, costing workers up to $11,000 a year.

In a letter to Education Minister Ben Carroll, the union accuses the government of having being “aware of, directed in and participated in” contraventions of Occupational Health and Safety laws and the Fair Work Act.

Penalties are up to $187,800 for each breach. 

The union says Tradeflex has not made firm offers of employment to the majority of cleaners, while those who have received offers from Serco are seeing a drastic halving of their shifts.

It will be alleged both contractors' actions represent breaches of workplace safety laws by cutting hours and imposing “unreasonable workloads” on school cleaners.

United Workers Union Property Services Director Lyndal Ryan says the education minister needs to "get out of his air-conditioned office" to understand the cleaners' prospects.

“Because of this bungled changeover workers are facing weeks without pay over Christmas and drastic cuts to hours and pay even if they land a job," she said.

“These workers are barely above the minimum wage and the Victorian government is throwing them on to the scrap heap during a cost-of-living crisis in the hope that friends and family can lend a hand over the Christmas break.

“The hard-hearted treatment of these workers is exactly why we have been calling for an end to this race-to-the-bottom privatisation of Victorian school cleaning."

Premier Jacinta Allan said all contractors are expected to comply with the Fair Work Act.

"I'm advised there is work underway between departments and and officials around around how there can be a smooth transition," Ms Allan told reporters at Bundoora on Monday.

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