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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 10 (19 October) . . Page.. 3358..


MR GENTLEMAN (continuing):

government's iniquitous and draconian WorkChoices legislation. Under the new commonwealth industrial relations system, workers are forced to work longer hours for lower wages. There needs to be an adequate minimum wage which not only enables people to make ends meet but also affords them some dignity and family wellbeing.

As part of the various activities and events organised for Antipoverty Week, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union held a rally for cleaners outside Pilgrim House in Civic on Tuesday. The rally in Canberra was part of a broader national campaign whereby CBD cleaners from round Australia and New Zealand rallied in every capital city to focus attention on the effects of low paid work and poverty wages on their families and communities. The clean start: fair deal for cleaners campaign is at the forefront of unions fighting poverty.

A recent quarterly newsletter of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council reported that many cleaners have a take home pay packet below the official poverty line. That is unacceptable and action such as that which was taken on Tuesday is imperative if we are to improve their position. These workers are the most vulnerable group in society. Cleaners are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because of the type of work they undertake and the socioeconomic background of the workers. Given the nature of cleaning work, it must be done outside normal working hours. These workers often work shifts as short as two hours. Very few cleaners are offered full-time work. That mean that even when appropriate hourly rates are offered, income from a single job is extremely low.

Most of the union members of the LHMU are workers with low skills and from non-English speaking backgrounds. For example, a young girl from Thailand has not been greeted with the Australian value of wealth for toil. Rakchanok Sothanaphasian started working as a cleaner at one of Sydney's top CBD office sites as soon as she arrived in Australia. However, to secure the job, Rakchanok needed to accept the company's policy of a one-month training period. Under this program, trainees undertake all the same tasks as other cleaners. However, they are not paid for the training period. These conditions are completely unacceptable and this is blatant exploitation.

Many of these workers are silenced because of their desperate situation or lack of access to certain welfare benefits and related support, due either to visa restrictions or simply ignorance of their rights at work. The LHMU is to be commended for the valued support that they provide for those workers. Despite the restrictions placed on the right of workers to collectively bargain under WorkChoices, the LHMU is committed to fighting this cause to the very end.

These cleaners are the invisible workers in most prestigious government and private corporate buildings across Canberra. On Tuesday, the rally made the very shrewd point of going through the AusAid building on Northbourne Avenue. AusAid recently released a white paper on fighting poverty in developing countries. The stated aim of the white paper is to help millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region to overcome the scourge of poverty and live in peace and prosperity. This is a valuable report, no doubt. However, it needs to be recognised that many Australians are living in poverty. The number of people living below the poverty line is growing every day, a fact that no longer can be ignored by the federal government. Although the clean start campaign has begun with


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