Fair Work uncovers “rampant exploitation” of Woolworths cleaners

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th February 2018

Cleaning contractors at 90 per cent of Woolworths’ Tasmanian supermarkets were found not complying with workplace laws a Fair Work Ombudsman inquiry has uncovered.

Examining supermarket cleaning contractors in Tasmania commencing from late 2014, the Fair Work Ombudsman found “deficiencies in Woolworths’ governance arrangements with regards to its procurement and oversight of cleaning contracts”.

Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, said Woolowrths’ governance deficiencies resulted in serious exploitation occurring at multiple levels of its cleaning supply chain.

“We uncovered breaches across 90 per cent of Woolworths’ Tasmanian sites, including cases of contractors paying cleaners as little as $7 per hour for training and $14 per hour for work – well below their legal entitlements,” James said.

Ms James said that cleaners were often paid in unrecorded cash-in-hand payments with no payslips.

“Overall, record-keeping by contractors engaged at Woolworths’ sites was abysmal: at 84 per cent of sites workplace records were inaccurate or not kept at all,” Ms James said.

The inquiry not only looked at Woolworths sites in Tasmania, but also Coles and IGA Tasmanian sites. Fair Work said the inquiry’s focus was on Woolworths as it was the only retailer of the three outsourcing its day-to-day cleaning.

To date, the inquiry has identified more than $64, 000 in underpayments, with more than $21, 000 rectified. A lack of correct record keeping and cooperation from affected workers is however stopping Fair Work from figuring out exactly what workers are owed.

Fair Work now wants the deed it has with Woolworths in regards to trolley collector pay to be extended to include cleaners.

In October 2017, Woolworths signed a proactive compliance deed with Fair Work committing to protecting the rights of its collectors following an inquiry that uncovered underpayments from the past.

In response to Fair Work’s cleaning contractors inquiry results, a Woolworths spokesperson told Australian Food News that Woolworths is committed to working closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman as it incorporates enhanced management of its cleaning contractors throughout Australia.

“We’re also committed to paying cleaners if they’re found to be underpaid for cleaning services provided to Woolworths, and where the relevant subcontractor employing entity fails to rectify the underpayments,” Woolworths’ spokesperson said.

“Cleaners are an integral part of our store teams, providing an essential service across Woolworths’ sites, not just in Tasmania, but nationwide. We’d like to thank them for their continued hard work and support of our store teams.”


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