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Background

According to the ABS1, the cleaning sector in Australia was estimated to be comprised of 26,904 enterprises employing 131,908 workers (10,033 of these are registered as employing businesses).

ABS Census 2016 data relating to workers in the ‘Building and Other Industrial Cleaning Services’ sector revealed:

  • 50% of workers within the cleaning industry were born overseas (compared to 31% of all employed persons in Australia)
  • 40% spoke a language other than English at home (compared to 21% of all employed persons in Australia)
  • of those who spoke a language other than English at home, 19% either didn’t speak English at all, or did not speak English very well – compared to 8% of all employed persons in Australia
  • 28% did not have Australian citizenship compared to 12% of all employed persons in Australia
  • 12% were current students
  • 68% of workers in the industry were employees (as opposed to contractors or owner/managers), compared to 86% of all employed persons in Australia.

The FWO has undertaken several inquiries involving the exploitation of employees engaged in low-skilled work in supply chains. These include:

  • labour procurement arrangements of the Baiada Group
  • trolley collection services procurement by Woolworths Limited
  • procurement of housekeepers by four and five-star hotel groups.2

An inquiry into the procurement of cleaners in Tasmanian supermarkets was prompted by information received by the FWO indicating that there was significant non-compliance in the Tasmanian supermarket cleaning sector. For instance, the FWO received intelligence that cleaners in some supermarkets were being paid as little as $7.00 per hour for training and $14.00 per hour for all hours worked. Information also indicated the prevalence of labour supply chains, involving multiple levels of sub-contracting, which, based on the FWO’s prior inquiries, can be a source of non-compliance. Intelligence held by the FWO also suggests non-compliance may not be limited to Tasmanian sites and also occurs on the mainland.

In previous investigations into the cleaning sector, the FWO found many workers were reluctant to engage with or approach the FWO for assistance due to cultural reasons, immigration status, limited workplace rights knowledge, or concerns about employment security.

The FWO inquiry sought to test the validity of the intelligence received (alleging non-compliance) and gain a greater understanding of the employment conditions and wages being paid to supermarket cleaners in Tasmania.

In addition, the results may assist the FWO to identify the distinct market structure and environmental settings in this sector, to map the various business relationships and engage with the price-setters.


  1. ABS Census 2016
  2. See Inquiry reports page