All workers, regardless of their citizenship status, have human rights. Despite this, migrant workers, especially in low-paying jobs like cleaning, are often the target of exploitation. Often, there are many barriers to cleaners seeking help, including language barriers and complex contracting arrangements in which cleaners don’t have access to support from further up the cleaning supply chain, making it difficult to improve their working conditions at both an individual and site-wide level.
CAF, and the stakeholders that work in partnership with us, break down these barriers through directly engaging cleaners as part of a rigorous and ongoing assessment of a building’s cleaning supply chain. Migrant workers make up a large proportion of the cleaners in Australia and CAF Representatives at certified sites play an invaluable role in this process, by speaking up and advocating for themselves and their colleagues. When equipped with the knowledge of their rights and entitlements, migrant workers are able to work with CAF to identify instances of exploitation and take steps to remediate issues as part of ongoing compliance with the CAF 3 Star Standard. CAF Compliance Officers have heard first-hand accounts of migrant workers facing instances of exploitation. Two such instances are outlined below:
1. Employers do not provide migrant workers with information in their own language
In many instances, migrant workers are not provided important job information in their own language and, in some cases, not at all. Keeping an employee in the dark about the nature of their employment allows the cleaning contractor to redefine the terms of their employment without the employee’s consent. For example, during worker engagement at a building, it was identified that several cleaners had not been given a job description. One cleaner stated that they know what level they are working on, but they are unsure of the tasks they are meant to complete. Another cleaner said they are unsure of their job, including what level they are meant to be cleaning. When an employee has not been given an outline of their job description to begin with, it makes it difficult for the cleaner to object to any addition or changes to their regular work, as they have no point of reference for what they’ve been paid to do. Employers can use this tactic to get away with imposing heavy and inconsistent workloads on migrant workers more easily.
2. Employers put pressure on migrant workers to work more hours than their visa allows
Another finding our Compliance Officers have come across is employers putting pressure on migrant workers to work more hours than their visa allows, putting them at risk of their visa being revoked. Often migrant workers aren’t made aware of whistle-blower policies or appropriate channels through which they can make a complaint and aren’t even aware they have the right to push back on their employer on their working hours. They are left with the difficult option of leaving their employment or continuing to put their residency status at risk, and often they will choose the latter as they are dependent on their job to make a living.
Lorraine Finlay, Human Rights Commissioner, believes that too often migrant workers who experience discrimination and human rights breaches don’t know their rights in Australia, and don’t know where to go for help. Finlay states that:
“The law in Australia sets out basic minimum employment standards, protects against various forms of discrimination, and prohibits forced labour. These laws protect everybody, including migrant workers.
Companies need to do more to ensure three key things: that all workers have safe and fair working conditions, know where to seek help and support, and know they can make a complaint without being punished.”
To bridge this knowledge gap, CAF and the Australian Human Rights Commission have created the Migrant Worker and their Rights in Australia Factsheet. (Available in 7 languages).