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Byron Shire
June 15, 2021

Taking it to the cleaners – workers speak 

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Paul Bibby

It’s the type of text message exchange that Byron cleaning business owners like Cristina Arcila are becoming all too familiar with.

‘We have a booking that’s just come in – I need you to service it,’ is the typically blunt opening.

If the cleaner asks for more time, the response is often less than cordial.

‘It’s often just a “No, that’s not going to work for us”,’ Ms Arcila recalls.

‘And if you suggest that they might want to ask another cleaning company, you’re likely to get “but you’re my cleaner”.

Local cleaning business owner, Cristina Arcila. Image Jeff ‘Clean as a whistle since 1986’ Dawson

Welcome to the cleaning and maintenance business, in a town saturated with short-term holiday letting.

With scores of local homes now little more than Airbnb investment properties, some cleaners and other essential tourism industry workers are being treated like commodities rather than essential workers.

They frequently deal with agencies, property managers, and property owners hundreds of kilometres away, who seem to care little for the person on the other end of the line. 

Big agency pressure

‘The big management agencies are working for their client and therefore make them a priority, often at our expense. They will push us to the limit to ensure their clients’ needs are met’, Ms Arcila says.

Ms Arcila also says there is a tendency among both private owners and agencies to ask cleaners to do errands for them without paying for their time.

‘Some clients ask me to do their shopping, pick up and drop off linen or change empty gas bottles’, Ms Arcila says. 

‘It’s the stuff that basically keeps their business operational, but they don’t want to pay for those tasks, it’s just expected that we do them’.

She says others demand that cleaners make themselves available at short notice, and refuse to take no for an answer.

‘I’ve said to several property owners that I can’t make it… they say “What am I supposed to do? You’re my cleaner”,’ Ms Arcila says. 

Treated like property

‘It’s like I’m their property or something.’

‘I’m not saying the industry needs to stop, they need us, and we need them, but I’d love it if we could work with them rather than for them… we’re a community here’. 

And Ms Arcila is far from alone.

When she recently expressed her frustrations on social media, she was greeted with dozens of corroborating comments from fellow cleaners, gardeners and maintenance people, not to mention scores of other locals offering support.

‘Many property owners act as if it were a simple job, which does not require any understanding’, one local cleaner commented.

‘They change the schedule the whole time, without worrying about notifying the cleaner’.

‘I suggest for them to try doing it themselves to see if it’s so easy’.

Dan Waters, the owner of Paradise Maintenance, told The Echo that he felt that some Airbnb agencies and owners had lost sight of the community focus that characterises Byron Bay.

‘Some of these guys, they’ve really taken the personal, community side out of it completely – it’s just an investment for them,’ he said.

‘I moved to this area for community – to love the person next to me and treat them as a friend. It’s got to be give and take, you know?’ 

‘These days, there’s a lot of time pressure. No time for a two-minute conversation, more just “I need this”.’

‘All I want to see is for the community to grow together, to strengthen our bonds, stick together and continue to support each other’.

Both Mr Waters and Ms Arcila emphasised that there were still many considerate, community-focused owners, property managers and agencies in the Shire and beyond. 

‘There are some amazing people out there who always treat us with kindness and respect,’ Ms Arcila said.

‘And there’s also a really strong sense of community among the different service businesses in the area.’

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  1. Short term residential accommodation in Byron Shire is still an illegal prohibited activity in residential zones without a DA. It will not be legal until the SEPP amendment is gazetted for a start date of January 31, 2022. The cleaners when they are put under pressure shouls remind the holiday let owners that they are breaking NSW planning law.

  2. Yes housing for staff happens snow towns too, but accommodation is provided for staff. If the Government does not provide affordable housing then, business should. If they can’t afford it, then rent the premise with a long term lease to a local. This is absolutely crazy, that workers at finding it difficult to afford to live in the Shire any more. Many people now live out of the shire and pay to commute, with low wages this is not sustainable. We are losing local families and replacing them with tourists, the fabric of our local community is becoming more fragmented.

  3. Local cleaners were called in to deep clean the Suffolk Park Airbnb in April inhabited by the 8 Brisbane women and visited by the RPA nurse who had COVID 19 and her sister for a hens party. Must not forget the Gold Coast male entertainer who also developed COVID. This group were responsible for the partial lockdown of Byron and adjoining Shires as well as cancellation of Bluesfest.

    I wonder whether the local cleaners were paid extra danger money for the position that they were put in.


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