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Byron Shire
August 1, 2021

Shafted workers

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School cleaner, Name withheld

I’m a frontline worker, a contract cleaner providing an essential service for our state government.

We faced the bushfire threat from mid-October with the community engulfed in a smoke-haze of varying intensity. We worked indoors and outdoors, without air-conditioning through a very long hot summer, with no safety gear.

We also dealt with a flood in February that required all that extra effort to clean up. Just as autumn arrived, we entered into crisis mode with the COVID-19 virus.

Needless to say, we have all been subjected to very tough, stressful working conditions over the past six months, providing our frontline services during ‘unprecedented’ circumstances.

During the same period, management has been engaged in a fierce battle with the unions, trying to beat off efforts to improve wages and conditions for their essential workers. Part-time staff received a $2 an hour pay increase in October, when the negotiated contract expired, and reverted to the award system.

Management’s new deal increased our workload with no extra time or wages included. There was no consultation or negotiation, ‘suck it up’ was the message.

As an essential service, we’ve had no special directives or supplies from management to help protect staff.

Management hasn’t reassessed the workload or reorganised work schedules to minimise contact and staff onsite. No risk assessment of older staff has been undertaken.

Yet, we’re the lucky ones, we’ve managed to keep our jobs, and keep the cashflow from public funds rolling into management’s coffers. Whether we retain our health and our lives remains debatable.

Individual staff members are left to work out the best way to manage their job, and their personal safety. To management we are expendable, easily replaced, nothing more than a niggling cost on the bottom line. Every decision is about gaming the system, getting staff to do more for less, so management can maximise profits for ephemeral shareholders, and boost obscene performance payouts for executives and the board.

Crowds clapping, words of gratitude, and endless platitudes are worthless, meaningless, and insulting to those putting themselves in harm’s way, when we continue to live in a ruthless marketplace, a heartless economy, where profits remain far more important than people’s lives. 

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