The exploitation of cleaners

The Senate Education and Employment References Committee is to conduct an inquiry into the exploitation of general and specialist cleaners working in retail chains for contracting or subcontracting cleaning companies. The Committee is to report by 15 October  2018.

The inquiry is to have particular reference to

a) frameworks at both Commonwealth and industry level to protect workers from harm, including exploitation, wage theft, underpayment, wage stagnation and workplace injury;

b) measures designed to ensure workers have adequate representation and knowledge of their rights;

c) compliance with relevant workplace and taxation laws, including the effectiveness and adequacy of agencies such as the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Australian Taxation Office;

d) practices including ‘phoenixing’ and pyramid subcontracting; and

e) any related matters.

As to unlawful phoenix activity, cleaning has continually been reported as one industry, along with labour hire (which can encompass cleaning) and private security services, as having a high concentration of phoenix activity.

Generally, those involved in such exploitation need dome professional advice in at least setting up a corporate structure and engaging the ’employees’.  One useful focus for the inquiry might be the legal and accounting advisers to SMEs, who may be called in to assist in setting up or assisting in matters about the business.  While their particular advice may well be correct and without criticism, they should not be turning a blind eye to their clients’ potential abuse of the structures in which they operate.

Even apart from being ‘involved’ in a client’s contravention, under s 79 Corporations Act, lawyers and accountants have ethical and professional responsibilities upon which they may need to act when confronted with a client’s illegal conduct.

The conduct of the ‘respectable’ retail chains which engage these cleaning operators might also be examined.

The closing date for submissions is yet to be advised.


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