Strata schemes accused of using ‘slave’ cleaners

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It started with a simple question to Flat Chat: Who is ultimately responsible for the cleaning contracts in apartment blocks?

The answer revealed that thousands of strata schemes across NSW could be supporting the underpayment and exploitation of workers from overseas.

According to a radio report going out this Sunday, June 5, some strata cleaning firms are employing overseas students, workers on temporary visas and illegal over-stayers at below minimum wage rates.

Penalty rates are non-existent and their workers compensation insurance and tax status are also highly doubtful.  The workers either don’t realise they are being ripped off or don’t complain for fear of losing their jobs or being sent back to their home countries

And the sickening part of all this for strata owners is that some of us are actively contributing to this in our collective determination to spend as little on levies as we possibly can.

Your committee probably feels they are serving you best by choosing the cleaning contract that promises the maximum bang for the unit block’s buck. But, as Background Briefing on Radio National reports this weekend, that’s a buck that gets passed around quickly when someone starts asking questions.

The committee says talk to the strata manager. The strata manager, quite rightly says “not our problem … talk to the building manager” and the building manager flicks it back to the committee.

So who is ultimately responsible?  The answer is you and me and all the other owners in our buildings.

Your representatives have chosen a firm to clean your buildings. That firm may well be absolutely legitimate, pay their workers properly and perform a professional service. Or they could be a crowd of opportunistic shonks operating on a basis that’s perilously close to slave labour.

Certainly some of the bigger professional firms are outraged at having even fat-free contracts undercut by firms whose charges and services don’t add up.

So what can an ordinary strata owner do? Basically, when cleaning contracts come up next, insist that the committee gets proof that the firm employs people legally and carries all the appropriate insurances.

It’s not just a moral question.  If one of their cleaners injures themselves in your building, and the firm isn’t insured, guess who carries the can.

Background Briefing is on ABC National on Sunday at 8.00 am and available online as a podcast.  You can comment on this and other issues on the Forum.

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