17 Aug 2015

Australian parliament's hygiene goes down the toilet

10:47 am on 17 August 2015

MPs and senators returning to Canberra this week will have more than just their electoral seats to worry about, as parliamentary cleaners begin a week of industrial action refusing to clean toilets seats and bathrooms throughout Parliament House.

Parliament House, Canberra

Cleaners don't plan to touch bathrooms at Parliament House for a week. Photo: AFP

The union representing the cleaners, United Voice, said staff have been arguing for a pay rise from $AU21.10 per hour to $AU22.90 under their new agreement.

"Toilets and bathrooms get pretty dirty over the course of the week," Lyndal Ryan, the ACT Secretary of United Voice, said.

"Wouldn't it be nice to think that they didn't have to [strike] at all?

"It would be very nice if this industrial action could end before anyone has to put up with smelly bathrooms, smelly toilets."

The strike is set to run from Monday morning to Saturday morning.

United Voice said the number of cleaners in Parliament House had dropped dramatically since the building opened in 1988, from about 100 to just 40.

Given the group are in charge of keeping standards up across the building's 4,700 rooms, Ms Ryan said the cleaners deserved a pay rise.

She said the cleaners wages had been frozen since July 2013.

"To add insult to injury, we start hearing all the reports of politicians' entitlements, we hear about 'Bronny-gate' and the general excesses around the use of their entitlements," Ms Ryan said.

"It's really tough if you're on minimum wage, or close to, to hear about how other people live, what they expect to receive, what they expect the public to fund, and then the cleaners to be left so far behind.

"[The politicians are] the most powerful people in the country - if they can't fix the cleaners' wage, what hope do the rest of us have?"

Earlier this year the cleaners took 24 hours of industrial action, when the union said approaches to Employment Minister Eric Abetz were ignored.

"We had hoped that the media attention around that and the general community support that the cleaners received would've moved the Government to do the right thing by this group of workers," Ms Ryan said.

Ms Ryan said the cleaners were hoping new Speaker Tony Smith proved to be not only a new broom for parliamentary decorum, but for cleanliness as well.

"The Speaker's position is in charge of the contract through the Department of Parliamentary Services," Ms Ryan said.

"We would hope perhaps with a new Speaker who's come in on the basis of being fair to all, will actually see that there's some fundamental unfairness in expecting hard working cleaners to go without."