Denise Roche

Cleaning up the House

by Denise Roche

I’m calling on all MP’s of whatever persuasion to help get a Living Wage for the parliamentary cleaning staff.

The parliamentary cleaners have been in the media recently which has highlighted the fact that they get paid $14.10 per hour for their work while MPs salaries start at around $140,000 per year.

The cleaning staff are employed by contractor Spotless who say that they will pass on higher wages to the cleaning staff if the client (in this case Parliamentary Services) is willing to pay for it.

The parliamentary cleaners work 30 hours a week from midnight til 6am.  They take great pride in their work and do a really good job however their wages are not enough to live on so most work long hours or a couple of jobs to make ends meet.

In addition they are under constant insecurity about the fact that their employer could at any time lose their contract and the only protection they have had is Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act (ERA) which guarantees their job security if the contract is picked up by another cleaning company.

However this provision is now under threat.  The government is ushering in changes to the ERA and parliamentary cleaner’s delegate Mareta Sinoti and two of her colleagues bravely fronted up to the Transport and Industrial Relations committee two weeks ago to tell the National party MPs the reality of their lives and beg for Part 6a to remain.

It was after their appearance there that National MP Tau Henare  (a former Clerical Workers Union organiser) suggested something along the lines of:  “if they don’t like their jobs they should give it to someone who wants it.”

Tau has since apologised but his outburst was a shocking reminder of the lack of empathy prevalent amongst some National MPs which is perhaps best explained as the Money-Empathy Gap – a phenomenon being studied by researchers at the American Berkley university.

I have already written to Parliamentary Services explaining that the House of Representatives should be leading the way in paying the people who look after the MPs a wage that will enable them to live a decent life.  It is abhorrent that MPs should benefit from the work they provide us for a pittance.

And I have challenged MPs across the political spectrum to join with me to Clean Up the House as an expression of support to work alongside the cleaners for one night.

As well as my Green colleagues I already have confirmed support from MPs from Labour and Mana. It will be interesting to see if Tau will take up the brush.