A rally by Queensland unions was held at midday outside the Queensland Children’s Hospital in South Brisbane in support of United Voice workers fighting against wage theft.
Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said the stand taken by the workers at Medirest was on behalf of every other Australian worker in the same position— who are struggling to make ends meet in an economy geared to encourage wage theft, insecure work and low wage growth.
“What is happening to you is not fair. It isn’t right. And the entire Queensland union movement is proud to back you in,” said Ms McLennan.
“It seems that every day in this country there is another story about workers getting screwed, and I was horrified to hear that a company that makes more than a billion in profit is ripping off workers to the tune of $10 per hour. We need to change the rules.”
Meeta and Bindi are cleaners at the hospital.
“The main thing is the pay, and the second thing is the way management treats the employees,” said Meeta.
“We are working in a hospital but they are treating us like kindergarten kids.”
Cleaning hospitals is a highly specialised job. Hospitals need perfectly clean and hygienic environments; around expensive and particular equipment; and around sick, frightened children and their even more worried parents.
“Hospital cleaning is the highest standard you can get to,” said Bindi.
“I used to work in ED (The Emergency Department) with Meeta. In ED you have to clean up after trauma patients. “
That means blood. Pus. Bone. Bandages. Medical waste. Urine and faeces. We are talking all of it.
“Not only that, but all of us have to go cytotoxic training because of the chemicals used for chemotherapy patients. We have to learn infectious clean — so dealing with all kinds of infections. All these speciality skills and knowledge we have here — we aren’t getting paid for it.”
Despite these specialised skills and knowledge, cleaners like Meeta and Bindi are paid according to the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 — giving them $10/hr less than workers doing the exact same job at the Royal Brisbane Hospital — fewer than 6kms away in Herston.
Damien Davie is the Organiser with United Voice helping Medirest workers at the Queensland Children’s Hospital win their fight for fair pay.
“The core of this issue is that the system is broken and the rules need to change. We’ve got an agreement here that is based on the wrong award, that just slipped through the commission,” said Mr Davie.
“In a system that works, you should be able to rectify that in a timely manner. It shouldn’t happen in the first place, but when it does it shouldn’t be a fight, it shouldn’t be a fuss to get people on the right award.“
Medirest was given the contract for cleaning at the hospital by the Newman LNP Government. Its business model of profits-through-theft has become more common in Australia.
Medirest’s parent company Medirest Compass posted a profit of more than $1billion last year. It also has a track record when it comes to wage theft. Just one month ago (January 2019) Medirest Compass was ordered to pay back more than £40,000 underpaid to their workers at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in the U.K.
Bindi has a simple message for management at the hospital, for Medirest and for the Queensland Government.
“Quite frankly, I’m an asset to this company. The amount of time, effort, energy and work I’ve put in here, and all the training I’ve had, and all the extra training I’ve given to staff— to be paid $20 an hour is a bit of a joke.”
“Everyone here is entitled to dignity and respect. We provide essential services. You can’t have kids being opened up for surgery in an unclean area and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be respected and we get paid accordingly.”