Cleaners ‘forced to give up overtime for shifts’: union

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Cleaners ‘forced to give up overtime for shifts’: union

The cleaners’ union is taking the Spotless company to FWA and the Federal Court over claims it is forcing workers to sign flexibility agreements to give up overtime payments, or else lose shifts.

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The cleaners’ union is taking the Spotless company to FWA and the Federal Court over claims it is forcing workers to sign flexibility agreements to give up overtime payments, or else lose shifts.
 
The LHMU (now United Voice) says Spotless has claimed in a memo to staff that its deal with big Victorian shopping centres means it is only paid normal rates for labour, therefore it cannot recoup overtime payments.
 
‘The reason the company is asking for this [signing the IFA] is because the centre only pays normal rates for labour,’ the memo says.
 
‘Any overtime worked is a cost to the cleaning company and the company cannot afford to pay this additional cost.’
 
Pressure
 
United Voice said one cleaner who did not sign an ‘individual flexibility agreement’ said she lost $200 a week from a reduction in shifts.
 
‘I felt tremendous pressure to sign the agreement,’ she said.
 
The cleaner, paid about $16 an hour, said the loss of the Sunday shift had resulted in a ‘massive reduction in my income’.
 
In another signed statement, a cleaner claimed she was told, ‘You must sign’.
 
Jess Walsh, state secretary of United Voice, said the union was launching an ‘adverse action’ claim in the Fair Work Australia tribunal today and action in the Federal Court, claiming the cleaners were forced into the deals.
 
Walsh said around 200 Spotless cleaners had signed the deals in Victoria and it was claimed deals were also struck in New South Wales and South Australia.
 
‘WorkChoices all over again’
 
‘If Spotless were allowed to get away with this, you could imagine unscrupulous employers could try to undermine award conditions with IFAs [individual flexibility agreements] and it would be like WorkChoices all over again,’ she said.
 
United Voice national secretary Louise Tarrant said cleaners have been ‘marched in and told to sign the agreements or they will never be given overtime again’.
 
Flexibility agreements are a legal part of the Fair Work laws, but employers are not allowed to exert ‘undue pressure’ on staff to sign, and any agreement that changes conditions must leave the workers better off overall.
 
The claims have been ‘strongly rejected’ by Spotless.
 
‘Spotless is surprised by these allegations, having held productive discussions with the [union] national secretary only days ago — these issues were not raised,’ a spokeswoman said.
 
‘Completely voluntary’
 
She said the company only rarely used the agreements and they were ‘completely voluntary’.
 
‘Spotless offers IFAs to enable employees to gain more hours if they want to earn more money; for example, work on Saturdays as well as during the week.’
 
Walsh said cleaners could lose in two ways: if they signed the deal, they lost their overtime pay, which starts at time and a half; and if they did not sign them, they faced losing shifts.
 
She said it was the first time the union had seen this approach from an employer in the Victorian cleaning industry.
 
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