Cleaners have been recognised as essential workers throughout the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Their role in keeping public spaces clean and hygienic has been critical to Australia’s comparatively low infection numbers to date and we will continue to rely on them to see us through this pandemic. Despite cleaners playing such a vital role, they are too often subjected to dangerous and substandard working conditions, with international students in particular experiencing high rates of exploitation.
The recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Melbourne have demonstrated the importance of essential services being responsibly procured and overseen.
There are examples of responsible supply chain conduct in the cleaning industry at this time. One such example can be found in ISPT’s retail portfolio. At ISPT’s 50+ shopping centres around the country, cleaners have been supported through the provision of fair and safe working conditions delivered in partnership between the whole of the cleaning supply chain: their employer, the property manager, and the building owner, ISPT. This partnership ensures that the community can come and do their shopping safely throughout the pandemic.
How Wintergarden’s best practice conduct protected the community
Quality training: ISS Facility Services Australia invested heavily in training their staff at the outset of the pandemic, ensuring that all employees had reliable and up to date information on COVID-19 cleaning and safety procedures. Andrew Corones, National General Manager Operations, from ISS said that:
“The training of all managers, supervisors and cleaners was ISS’ top priority in dealing with COVID-19 and its impacts on operations. ISS conducted toolbox talks, on-the-job training on cleaning for Coronavirus, sanitising and disinfection procedures, and high touch point cleaning, for all our cleaners.”
Personal protective equipment: Whereas lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has emerged as a key problem for cleaners in recent months (74% of respondents to a survey conducted by United Workers Union reported not having enough PPE), high expectations for cleaner safety at ISPT sites has ensured that cleaning contractors have sourced the required supplies for their staff.
Redirecting resources: With the volume of customers visiting retail sites dropping to approximately 60 to 70% at many CBD retail sites such as Wintergarden in Brisbane, cleaners were given extra time to clean priority areas. The closure of food courts and specialty stores allowed ISPT to redirect cleaners to high activity cleans around their retail centres such as doors, lifts, escalators/travelators, bins, seating and loading docks.
Worker voice: As a CAF-certified building, Wintergarden has a CAF Representative, a cleaner nominated by their peers to provide a voice to the cleaning workforce within CAF and the supply chain. CAF Representatives such as Sheryl Connett at Wintergarden have played a crucial role in providing communication pathways for cleaners and providing assurance of safe and fair working conditions throughout COVID-19.
Supply chain oversight and cooperation
ISPT has recognised the importance of sustainable business partnerships with their suppliers, responding to COVID-19 with agility to successfully manage public safety, cleaners’ welfare and safety, and the viability of their suppliers and tenants. Alicia Maynard, General Manager, Sustainability & Technical Services at ISPT noted:
“Our property and cleaning business partners have worked together, managed demands and adjusted scopes to ensure everyone is well supported throughout this unprecedented time. We will continue to adhere to guidelines from the government and relevant authorities, as well as CAF guidelines to ensure our cleaners are valued, respected and looked after.”
This approach recognises the relationship between quality cleaning and decent work and the role that entities at the top of the supply chain can play to foster best practice.
Another key concern for ISPT has been to ensure the livelihoods of their cleaners. The shutdown of many shops and services has resulted in job losses for a high number of cleaners at shopping centres around the country. Many of those who have lost their jobs are migrant workers on temporary work visas who are ineligible for government income support, plunging them into financial distress and fuelling unprecedented demand for food bank assistance.
This dire situation has been avoided at ISPT retail sites, where all cleaners in the portfolio have been able to retain their jobs. Maynard further states that:
“We recognise and value the contribution of our cleaners and everything they do to ensure the health and safety of our retailers, visitors and community, particularly during these challenging times. The majority of our properties have remained open for essential services, which has allowed us to support our cleaners during COVID-19.”
The experience of cleaners at ISPT’s retail sites has been exemplary, according to a spokesperson for United Workers Union, Georgia Potter Butler:
“While many other retail sites have stood workers down or reduced hours, with many cleaners unable to access Government support, cleaners at ISPT sites have been treated with respect, working in safe environments with the jobs of cleaners protected during the coronavirus crisis. In comparison, cleaners at many other owners’ portfolios are returning to work at malls that are at normal capacity but with significantly reduced cleaning hours. ISPT has demonstrated that they value cleaners and the work that they do to keep public spaces safe and hygienic.”
This observation is confirmed by Sheryl Connett, a cleaner and CAF Representative at Wintergarden:
“COVID-19 has not affected me or my co-workers financially or at our workplace. Our employer rostered us on the same hours as before COVID-19. We do some extra work and different duties but we have enough time to finish everything. We have a safe environment, with hand sanitiser available, and stickers placed in toilets and on all floors to remind people about social distancing.”
CAF’s supply chain transparency and accountability mechanism
CAF’s supply chain transparency and accountability model has been a key factor in preventing outbreaks linked to cleaning services in Australia and keeping essential services in shopping centres running. CAF has provided guidance to members on ways to promote safe and responsible employment practices and supply chain oversight. The positive experience of cleaners at CAF certified buildings throughout COVID-19 demonstrates the efficacy of CAF’s certification model in the commercial property sector.
CAF applauds ISPT’s commitment to ensuring quality cleaning and safe working conditions for cleaners in their retail portfolio throughout the COVID-19 crisis.