Health workers are no strangers to stress and strain, especially during recent times. Workloads and pressures are high, corners are cut, and workplaces become unsafe for staff and patients.
One group of HSU members refused to let this continue in their workplace.
Cleaners at Westmead Hospital took strong and swift action against unsafe and unfair practices, walking out and sending a clear message to management. During the early months of COVID-19, management began to use contract cleaners to supplement staff. During this time, only small numbers of contract cleaners were used, but now in 2022, their presence has grown significantly, with over 60 contract cleaners working every day.
Contract cleaners did not receive the same standard of training as the permanent cleaning staff, resulting in unsafe workplace practices. Coupled with contract cleaners being rostered on more frequently than the permanent staff, this only further increased the level of unsafe and unfair work conditions.
Members and cleaners made their stance clear, walking out as the afternoon shift began through the halls of the hospital and gathering outside the entrance as the evening closed in.
Armed with HSU flags and chants, they took place and took their action.
‘When union rights are under attack, what do we do?’
‘Stand Up, Fight Back!’
‘If they go and make a mistake, we have to go and fix that mistake,’ a member explained. ‘It’s not good for us, it’s not fair.’
Members also stated that inexperienced contract cleaners applying for roles at the hospital were chosen over more skilled candidates.
‘With nine years’ experience, I learned everything, then I applied for the job,’ a member recalled. ‘I got three rejections; I applied on the fourth time and I got it. They [contract cleaners] come for the first time and they got the job.’
‘This is why I believe we need to strike. If they want a job, they need to go through the same process as we did.’
The HSU stands for permanent, properly-paid public health jobs. This is beneficial for both health workers and the communities they look after.
This instance was another example of hospital management choosing pennies over principles, putting patients and the wider community at risk of further infection and illness.
Skilled and qualified staff were being silenced and side lined for the convenience of management, with their fair and justified concerns going unheard and unnoticed.
Less than a day later, this action gained results for our members.
Management were forced to recognise the issue, and formally met with HSU delegates to come to a solution around contract cleaners and unsafe and unfair work practices. We congratulate the hard work of the cleaners at Westmead, for standing up for their rights and for the safety of the community.
This is another example of strength and unity through the union, and how our members get it done.