QAL cleaners fight back against big pay cuts
"DON'T take us to the cleaners" is the plea from a group of mums facing a massive pay cut.
Twenty-two Gladstone women are facing life on the poverty line as their new employer moves ahead with plans to dock their pay by up to $30 an hour.
One mum told The Observer the income drop would leave her with $5 a week after rent and other living expenses.
The women face one of the most hazardous jobs in the region.
Every day they deal with potentially deadly chemicals such as caustic acid at the Queensland Alumina Ltd plant.
The new contracting company, Menzies, has not returned calls or emails from The Observer.
QAL said it respected the governance of its contractor companies and expected them to meet all safety standards.
However, it refused to answer questions from The Observer regarding the tendering process and how the new Brisbane-based company was chosen.
Fifteen women are without jobs as of Friday, with the seven remaining staff expected to accept a daily rate of $18.01 per hour, a change from their previous contract at $31 per hour.
Although QAL put out to tender a new cleaning contract in May, the chosen company Menzies only offered the new contracts on Thursday despite the current QAL contract running out at midnight last night.
Former cleaner at QAL Belinda Norris chose not to take up the new offer, but said her colleagues and friends had been calling her in tears about what to do.
"Some of these ladies have no one to fall back on," she said. "We've never been paid this low.
"A lot of the ladies on day shift are single mothers. They won't be able to feed themselves, or pay rent."
Mrs Norris began on a $17 pay rate on an enterprise bargaining agreement that increased. The new company has no such offer.
"It is minimum wage and yet QAL say they're all about safety, but they've gone for the cheapest offer," she said.
"What average cleaner cleans areas around caustic and acid - how can that justify $18.01 an hour?"
Mrs Norris said only those offered contracts have been informed.
"The ones that don't haven't heard anything."
Some of them have been there for more than 20 years.
She said all the women had built their lives around their wage.
"We're paying $550 in weekly bills - I'd pocket $5 a week on the new wage," Mrs Norris said.
"What are these poor ladies going to do now that they are unemployed and how many are going to have to get a second job to be able to support themselves?"
Another former cleaner Chantelle Evans said the women loved their job, but weren't being offered enough to justify what they do.
"The money they were on has offset some of the worry, because they can see they were being looked after."
She said the women had to wear industry-wide personal protection equipment while on site.
"It's like getting a crash course in Chernobyl to work there," she said.
"We had to wear monos, carry DAP in case of caustic burn - do everyday house cleaners deal with that?"
A QAL spokesperson said QAL had clear policies, procedures and safety standards.
"Any inquiries related to the delivery of their goods or service need to be directed to their management team."
Current contract: $31 per hour, $37 nights, $60 weekends
New contract: $18.01 per hour, $22 nights, $27 Saturdays