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The extra funding announced by the Berejiklian Government for school cleaning is too little and too late. It does not repair eight years of cost savings and cuts to cleaning hours by this Government.

This continued cost cutting has put the safety of school cleaners, students, teachers and staff at risk. The Government and the four cleaning contractors working across our schools have been deliberately driving down wages and direct cleaning hours on school grounds. This cost-cutting has been continuing during the coronavirus outbreak, creating an inexcusable and downright dangerous situation.

Georgia Potter Butler, spokesperson for United Workers Union, the cleaners union, says, “Cost-cutting and cutting back of cleaning hours has been happening across the system, it has been happening in your local public school and there are still cuts proposed.

“United Workers Union has concerns about the handling by the Department of Education and Public Works of the NSW Whole of Government Cleaning Contract during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Obviously the hard work of cleaners is more important than ever during times like these.

“The NSW Government and cleaning contractors have not increased cleaning hours at schools, provided extra personal protective equipment (PPE) to cleaners, changed chemicals (many cleaning contractors across Australia have now upgraded to hospital-grade chemicals) or provided the union with any information about what is happening during coronavirus-related shut downs.

“At Epping Boys High School the Department of Education shut down the school and did not use the incumbent cleaners to do a deep clean of any kind. They claim they used the regular cleaning company, but that company brought in outside staff and there is no transparency about what actually happened during the clean and the cost to the public.

“They have also refused to commit to continue paying cleaning contractors should there be prolonged shut downs of schools (as they did during the bushfires) to ensure the contractors continue paying cleaners.

“We are asking the NSW Government to support our claims for extra PPE (especially disposable gloves and extra cloths), hospital grade cleaning chemicals and additional cleaning hours in schools so more thorough cleaning can be done.

“Many schools have had 10 to 20 hours or more – of cleaning hours a week ripped out of the roster. Many schools have had the numbers of cleaners on site cut. Workers are being paid less, in some cases the changes to hours in their school has seen pay packets cut by $300 a week.

“The funding announced by the Premier is an opportunity to right these wrongs, fix up the cleaning in our schools and bring respect back to our school cleaners – not just as a band aid solution during the coronavirus but ongoing. It can’t be a temporary solution to a problem that has been a long time coming.

“This funding bump might look good on paper, but there is no information on how it will be operationalized, or when. It certainly won’t happen overnight, they’ve cut the staffing back so much that increasing it quickly will be hard, particularly because our cleaners have Working with Children checks.”

Judith Barber, NSW school cleaner says, “As an example of the treatment of cleaners in our schools during the coronavirus outbreak, just this week colleagues in other schools have been telling me about issues they are facing right now –10 hours being shaved off the time to clean at their school and from their pay, workers having toilet cleaning allowances taken from their pay; school cleaning hours being cut as soon as a colleague resigns; their school being cut from a 3 cleaner staffing level to 2 cleaners.

“Under this funding bump, NSW school cleaners are asking the Minister for Education and the Minister for Finance to permanently increase cleaning hours, reverse cuts to cleaning hours that are planned to happen right now in some schools, ensure cleaners have specialist personal protection equipment, and ensure if staff are quarantined or a school gets closed they get paid special leave.”

Epping Boys High School background:

The situation at Epping Boys High School highlights the issues that face the majority of schools across the state. The cleaning roster at Epping Boys High School has been understaffed for the past month following a resignation. Our members have extra workload due to the understaffing and some days are only able to clear rubbish, rather than doing detail cleaning on site.

The cleaners at Epping Boys High School have had requests for personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks and extra hand washing supplies denied for the past four weeks. The workers were cleaning in a school affected by coronavirus with no PPE, and with staffing levels cut. The cleaners also have still had no guarantee they will be paid for the day the school was closed due to coronavirus.

United Workers Union is concerned at the lack of transparency from the NSW Department of Education and Property NSW over just what cleaning did happen in the school during the closure. The contractor for the school, Facilities First, does not have hospital-grade cleaning experience or equipment.

The United Workers Union position statement on coronavirus and workers is available here.


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