Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023



International Cleaners Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.B. Martin (resumed on motion).

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:57): I rise today to speak in strong support of this motion, and I thank the Hon. Reggie Martin for bringing this issue to the attention of the council. International Cleaners Day began as Justice for Janitors Day. It was the anniversary of the brutal 1990 clubbing by Los Angeles police of low-wage janitors protesting in the city's Century City district on 15 June that brought around that day. Violent images of the quashing of the protest were seen right around the world, galvanising public opinion in favour of the janitors and becoming an example of the sort of collective action that leads to better and more equitable working arrangements.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an immense challenge for all, revealing the true essence of what really is important and the individuals within our community who really are essential for our survival. It is not the large corporations or multinationals that at the end of the day we rely on, but rather the frontline, front-facing workers, often occupying the lowest paid positions in the lowest paid industries, who have been instrumental in carrying us through that crisis.

I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to every cleaner in this state who has bravely worked on the frontline during the pandemic and who works day in, day out ensuring our safety, giving many workers the ability to continue their own work as smoothly as possible. It is high time that we stopped categorising the work of cleaners, work that is vital and life-saving, as unskilled.

These individuals were at the forefront of a global health crisis. They were essential, and it is through their diligent efforts that we all remained, and continue to remain, protected. The existence of a day like International Cleaners Day is crucial in acknowledging the work of cleaners, which far too often goes unnoticed. They put in long hours, often before many of us are at work or sometimes after, and they frequently work alone. Therefore, it is imperative that we acknowledge and appreciate that remarkable contribution of our cleaners.

Their work may be unseen, but we recognise their efforts and express our gratitude. However, mere words of appreciation are not always sufficient. Unfortunately, thousands of cleaners across Australia find themselves trapped in insecure employment when they really deserve stable and dependable jobs. Many of us in this chamber may well have been cleaners in the past. In putting together this speech, I note that one of my first jobs was actually as a cleaner in the Eureka Tavern at Salisbury campus, and my goodness do I have some stories from that.

The Greens stand in solidarity today with cleaners as they advocate for the secure and stable employment they rightfully deserve. I deeply appreciate everything they do for all of us not just today but every single day, and particularly on International Cleaners Day.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (16:01): I start by thanking the Hon. Reggie Martin for bringing this motion before us today and echo the sentiments of other members, particularly those just expressed by the Hon. Tammy Franks. During COVID in particular, we saw those frontline staff step up and do an extraordinary job in keeping all of us safe for a very long time. As the Hon. Tammy Franks just highlighted, it is work that is often underappreciated and underpaid. I do not think any of us fully acknowledge or appreciate just how difficult the multiplier effects would have been on that during COVID in particular.

I support everything about this motion and everything that has been said, but I will use this opportunity, just like the Hon. Tammy Franks did, to acknowledge the years and years of work of my mum, who had her own cleaning company, having started it by herself. She worked as a cleaner and started a very successful cleaning company all on her own. I am immensely proud of everything that she achieved as a result of that.

I will say this much: it caught my father by surprise, because he was away at the time. Mum said, 'I've got a little part-time gig.' He said, 'What is it?' and she said, 'I'm just cleaning a couple of offices.' He was not happy about it. Lo and behold, within about 12 months she had turned that into an extraordinarily successful business all on her own, and I am exceptionally proud of that. Like other members in this place, during my days at uni I accompanied her on many of those weekends and nights. She would always get me to do the vacuuming, which I am not a fan of.

I can say that, from my perspective, it was also very rewarding work because you spend a lot of time talking to people on the ground in offices and places. I know mum made a lot of friends that she simply would not have otherwise made in a lot of workplaces that she had across Adelaide. She loved what she did, and we were extremely proud of what she contributed to our family as a result.

It is for that reason in particular that I was really thrilled that the Hon. Reggie Martin moved this motion, because not only do we get an opportunity to thank every cleaner who does such an important job in our community but also we reflect on the importance of that work in terms of getting me to where I am today through my mum.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (16:04): I would like to start by thanking the Hon. Heidi Girolamo and the Hon. Tammy Franks for their contributions, and I am very glad that the Hon. Connie Bonaros was able to sneak in and get onto the speaking list before I wrapped up debate.

The Hon. C. Bonaros: And her mum.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN: And her mum, absolutely. The role of a cleaner is something that a lot of people do transition through on their way to other careers, but it is in and of itself an honourable profession that people do take up and have as a career. It is something that often goes unnoticed. The hours can often be when we have all gone home and it can be a tough and hard gig on people's bodies as well.

It is, as I said, an honourable profession and I am glad to hear that this motion appears to have the support of the house and allows us to recognise the fantastic work that cleaners do not just on International Cleaners Day but, in fact, every day of the year. During COVID we talked about health heroes. We often took that to mean the doctors and the nurses, but it was the unseen heroes—the cleaners—who kept us safe and secure during that period of time as well. It is a great pleasure to bring this motion to the floor.

Motion carried.