Saturday, 29 March 2008

keeping it clean

good news today that will no doubt go unreported, as it's not a particularly important sector of the population. or is it? the signing of the "Principles for a Sustainable Property Services Industry" agreement is a significant step for cleaners.

they are really at the bottom of the heap, in terms of poor pay rates and conditions. the employment contracts act severely affected workers in this category. the move to contracted labour meant that these workers lost rights to annual leave and sick leave every time the contracting company changed hands. they are usually paid the minimum wage, so that when the minimum wage remained static throughout the 1990's, their wages in real terms continued to drop.

under a labour-led government, these workers have seen wage increases every year, as well as getting entitlement to four weeks annual leave and paid parental leave. their annual and sick leave provisions are now protected. the proposed changes to law making tea and meal breaks compulsory will also impact this group.

the new agreement goes further, and ensures that:
  • Clients receive and pay for good service;
  • Reputable service providers bid and win work based on fair contracting principles and reasonable reward;
  • Cleaners enjoy good jobs with sufficient hours, fair pay, reasonable work rates and safe conditions.
my understanding is that the agreement applies only to government departments at present, with the hope that it will have spin off effects in other sectors. it was great to see the property council of nz involved, along with the building service contractors of nz, and the service and food workers union. the mix of employer groups, porperty owners, unions and government getting together on an issue like this is a very good sign.

we sometimes forget the vital importance of these kinds of jobs. cleaners move through after hours, sometimes pretty late, doing their work quietly and efficiently. they definitely get to hear all about it when they don't do the job well. but when they do, nobody thinks about them much at all.

yet they are just as important to the proper functioning of our economy as any other group of workers. they deserve respect and appreciation, and fair pay and conditions for the work that they do. and let's not forget that the majority of workers in this industry are women. often women from low socio-economic backgrounds who are often struggling with more than one job, as well as having a family to look after. or foreign students struggling to earn a bit of income to help them survive.

i hope that the agreement does have significant impact, both in the public and private sector. i can't think of a group that deserves it more.

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