By Arthur Tsimopoulos
My first job was as a cleaner when I was 15. My mum was a cleaner and she wanted someone to cover her while she went on holidays, so I filled in for her. Soon I was filling in for other people at different sites.
At first it was just a job to get some money while I was at school, but it turned into a full-time job that provided a stable source of income.
I’m now 40 and a cleaner in the Adelaide CBD. I’m married to Carey and I have two daughters, Brooklynn, 7, and Kyra, 21.
I like cleaning because I like to see my work get good results. At the end of the day, you can see progress.
I clean three buildings, which have three levels of shops and a food court.
Within each building I clean toilets, common areas and fire stairs. All three buildings have a total of 48 flights of fire stairs.
Sometimes my work is physically demanding. You can spend about three hours in a shift cleaning fire stairs, if that’s what needs to be done.
I’m one of the fortunate cleaners because I get full-time hours. My hourly rate is $21.17 an hour.
I haven’t had a pay rise for four years.
As a cleaner, other workers often don’t show you much respect.
One store worker said to me: “But you’re a cleaner. Why should I have to clean up after myself?”
‘Why should I have to clean up after myself?’
Every three years the cleaning contract goes up for tender. It can be a stressful time: you don’t sleep because you are thinking about your job, you are worried about the new conditions you might work under, and you are wondering whether you will you be treated with respect or treated fairly.
As a cleaner, other workers often don’t show you much respect, says Arthur Tsimopoulos. (Flickr: Pam Loves Pie)
One company I worked for went bust in 2013, and that was a very unpleasant experience to say the least.
They went bust just before payday, and we had to fall back on our savings. We used up the money we had been setting aside for a family holiday.
Apart from the financial side of things, it took an emotional toll on me and my family.
The uncertainty of whether you are going to have a job the next day almost pushed me to quit my job.
I remember it was so stressful that at one point I yelled at my two-year-old daughter for something minor, and I felt terrible.
I’m still better off than a lot of other cleaners: my job falls under the Clean Start Agreement, which means better job security. Without it I would have lost my job when the cleaning contract changed. That security was negotiated by my union, United Voice.
I once had a manager who said: “If I had my way, I would fire all the cleaning staff and hire the cheapest cleaning contractor.”
Another manager threatened to fire us for not completing unreasonable workloads.
We all deserve respect at work
Every three years the cleaning contract goes up for tender, which can be a stressful time. (Supplied)
When the contract changes, you don’t know if you are going to get the same hours.
My wife is sick of “here we go again, every three years, another change of contract”.
She wants me to get a different job so I can have stability, like her job.
In cleaning we are one of the most unrecognised workers. All we want is the same respect that workers in other industries have, so that cleaners are not treated as second-class citizens.
We all deserve respect at work.
It’s not easy. My family has to work hard and save in advance for things like family holidays, and we often choose something that is affordable like cruise packages, which are one of the cheapest forms of travel.
Financial pressures really take a toll on me and my family. Virtually all of my tax return this year has gone to fixing my car.
Arthur Tsimopoulos is an Adelaide cleaner and United Voice member. He gave evidence today at a Senate inquiry into exploitation of cleaners working in retail chains for cleaning contractors.