Workers dirty as they face battle to keep schools clean

School cleaners across NSW say they are fed up with unsustainable workloads and underpayment as contractors cut back hours while expecting the same number of tasks be completed. 

A survey of almost 300 cleaners by the United Workers Union uncovered impossible workloads and high rates of injury, including fractured kneecaps due to falling down stairs and broken fingers.

Respondents said they were required to complete more than 600 tasks under terms of the NSW government's privatised cleaning contracts, which calculates to less than 45 seconds per task. 

About half of the cleaners said contractors had cut back their hours in the past five years and 75 per cent said workloads were worse.

More than 35 per cent of respondents said they had been injured at work in the past five years and 34 per cent also experienced workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination.

More than half of school cleaners also said they had trouble receiving the correct pay.

The Minns Labor government is reviewing cleaning contracts and the union is urging it to reverse the sector's privatisation. 

School cleaner Mitchell Elliott, who is contracted at two separate primary schools in the Western Sydney area, called on the government to cut out the middle man. 

"It's an uphill battle every day, we either find ourselves rushing around frantically trying to finish everything or we have to stay back without pay," he told AAP. 

Mr Elliott's hours were cut under the former Berejiklian coalition government but he said there was little communication from the contractor about why and he was still expected to complete the same tasks. 

He works a split shift across two schools, which is common for many in the sector, and is tasked with more than 700 cleaning jobs in one four-hour and 19-minute shift.

"It's important to us that we get the cleaning done to the standard expected ... if the work doesn't get done, it just builds up," he said. 

"It would be great to get the NSW government to interact with cleaners more and recognise they have this responsibility to us – it's their facilities after all."  

UWU property services coordinator Linda Revill said NSW cleaners were trapped in a privatised system, burdened with impossible workloads.

"The survey shows the duty to provide a safe workplace has been abandoned by contractors as they cut back cleaning hours at schools and give cleaners even more towering workloads," she said.

"It's high time the failed privatisation is ended."

The sector also facies personnel shortages which put extra pressure on existing workers to pick up the slack. 

Another cleaner who wished to remain anonymous said she had given up a school contract in favour of casual work due to the conditions. 

"When I started at the school there were six cleaners, where there had previously been 10, and by the time I quit there were four left. The problems are systemic and continue because of contractor hostility, a lack of empathy and no understanding of the role itself." 

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