Speaking at our 10 Year Anniversary Event, United Workers Union (UWU) National President, Jo-anne Schofield, discussed CAF’s evolution, achievements and future aspirations, emphasising the critical role of worker voice in achieving fair and ethical labour practices within the cleaning industry. Below is the speech delivered by Jo-anne on the evening.
I want to acknowledge all the CAF partners who are here today, in particular the hard-working staff, the Board and CAFs Chairperson, Tony Beck. There are so many people at UWU who have been part of the CAF journey, and key amongst these are Rebecca Stark, Lyndal Ryan, Georgia Potter Butler, as well as countless Union Organisers and members, and many, many allies like AustralianSuper. It is their persistence that has helped keep the CAF dream alive at times when it looked a little bit shaky. Thank you all for the work that you have done.
About United Workers Union
For those unfamiliar with who we are, United Workers Union is a general union. We are 100 years old and 150,000 members strong. No other union in the country represents such diversity across the workforce. We have members who work in every part of the economy and every pocket of the country; members who bring a richness to our union through their skills and through many diverse cultural backgrounds. Nowhere is this more evident than in the cleaning industry where work is the mainstay of hundreds of thousands of women and migrant workers. The cleaning sector provides an entry point, an opportunity and a livelihood to so many, and cleaners in turn provide an essential workforce through services to our offices, schools, shopping centres, hospitals and airports and many more.
The Origins of CAF
CAF began as an idea based on a simple principle: to create decent work based on fair pay, worker voice and respect in a sector scourged by some of the most egregious labour practices in this country. And like most good ideas, CAF was born through desperation. Cleaners are a largely invisible and vulnerable workforce performing work in in isolation. Wage theft; immigration-related coercion and threats; deceptive recruitment; excessive overtime; modern slavery and debt bondage; confiscation of personal and travel documents; and dangerous and substandard working conditions – these are all practices that have become commonplace.
The idea of CAF took seed over years and years of conversations with cleaners. Cleaners like Chris Wagland who knew that creating a space for cleaners to come together with the support of their union, the United Workers Union, so they could speak up about the issues they face in the workplace was critical to CAFs success.
Chris and Aria who will speak shortly, have long campaigned for their work to be valued, recognised and respected. They and thousands of others have taken to the streets, banged drums, met with owners, told sobering and oftentimes shocking stories about their experience at work. Those stories laid bare the problems facing the cleaning industry; tender processes that encouraged undercutting; contracts that rewarded players who refused to pay the barest of minimum wages; low entry; low regulation; and low pay.
Worker Voice & CAF’s Multifaceted Approach to Combat Exploitation
Cleaners also provided the much-needed solutions that CAF embodies: a certification scheme that places workers at the centre and that educates and empowers cleaners to raise issues and be actively involved in remediation in real time, at the worksite.
it is no coincidence that the rise in exploitation in the cleaning industry and rising inequality more generally has occurred against a backdrop of weakened labour laws and declining trade union membership in this country. We cannot end exploitation unless and until we turn that around. One solution, I believe, is CAF’s multi-stakeholder approach that leaves no stone in the supply chain unturned and that recognises the significant power that clients and owners hold in determining fair, equitable, ethical and sustainable labour practices, in addition to secure jobs, safe productivity rates and decent pay.
There is much in CAF that we can each be proud of. For me personally, what sets CAF apart is that cleaners play an active role in identifying, resolving and preventing supply chain abuses. In the early days of CAF, when we initially looked at the proposal to establish a mechanism for worker voice, one of the contractors at the table commented that you couldn’t believe anything cleaners said, it was all just hearsay. Thank goodness that is no longer the prevailing view. What also sets CAF apart is having superannuation funds that play a role in ensuring workers savings for retirement are invested responsibly. This recognises that dignity in retirement is only possible when you have dignity at work.
Looking to the Future
There is more to be done and more that is being done, thanks to the commitment of the team and all stakeholders. CAF is working towards Portfolio Certification – a massive task; as is the expansion of Contractor Prequalification which will provide an opportunity to address systemic issues across multiple sites. As CAF continues to mature, it can be easy for everyone to get their piece of assurance and forget that the foundation of the CAF system is fundamentally about respect for cleaners and recognising and rewarding the work that they do. This must continue to be the driving motivation around all that CAF does. In closing, I want to go back to the idea of CAF which, in my view, is bigger than an idea about the sort of jobs and industry we want to create. It’s also about the kind of society that we want to be part of. UK academic Danny Dorling says:
“Because “human beings are creatures that thrive in societies where we are treated more as equals …[w]e work best, behave best, play best and think best when we are not labouring under the assumption that some of us are much better, more deserving and much more able than others.
We perform the worst, are most atrocious in our conduct, are least relaxed and most unimaginative in outlook when we live under the weight of great inequalities – and especially under the illusion that these are somehow warranted.”1
So, in concluding, it is vital that we acknowledge the tireless work of cleaners in what has been a long fight, and commit to continuing to listen, to learn and to act in ways that uphold the ethic of CAF that places cleaners at its centre and strives to achieve decent work, fair pay, worker voice and respect.