During her 16 years cleaning government facilities, *Charlotte has seen it all.
Starting at 4am, she works for four and a half hours scrubbing floors, dusting, cleaning the toilets, taking out the rubbish and detailing. She then comes back in the afternoon to work for another three hours after workers have gone home.
Having worked in schools, Charlotte now cleans the Lake Illawarra Police Station at Oak Flats, but it's not the blood, vomit and other bodily fluids that she has to deal with that are what is making her speak out.
Instead, it's the constant pressure to do more in a shorter and shorter period of time, as the contractor she is employed by pushes to squeeze more value out of her and her colleagues to win the next government contract.
"We are extremely short staffed, so when someone's sick or on holidays, we've got to pick up the slack, there's an extra burden on us making us tired," she said.
"If you're injured they try and get you back to work earlier. It isn't a pleasant environment at the moment."
In a recent survey of 300 cleaners working at government facilities, the United Workers Union found a third of workers reported being injured on the job and three quarters said the workload had gotten worse in the past five years.
It's a story all too familiar to retired cleaner Kathleen Hadden. Ms Hadden worked at Dapto TAFE for most of her career, before a short stint at Shellharbour TAFE after her former workplace closed.
Ms Hadden said cleaners were seen as invisible, just appearing out of the broom closet at the end of the day and returning there before classes began in the morning, and it was only in their absence that administrators realised how essential they were.
"We had a strike for three days years ago, and they had to shut the TAFE," she said. "The toilets weren't clean, the rubbish was overflowing."
Starting before dawn, Ms Hadden would have six minutes to clean each classroom, including emptying bins, wiping down tables and vacuuming.
"In a kindergarten classroom it's glitter, in others it's glue on the desk, at a high school it's standing up furniture and picking up the debris off the floor," she said.
"After three hours you're exhausted."
But the day isn't over. Most cleaners work split shifts - three hours in the morning and then returning in the afternoon, where they take on the role of quasi-security guards, ensuring the entire school is locked up and secure for the night.
Similarly, Ms Hadden said the pressure came from the constant drive from the contracting businesses to reduce costs in order to win the next government contract.
"To win the contract they have to quote low, and to quote low it's always the cleaner that suffers."
United Workers Union property service coordinator Linda Revill said the pressure was leading to widespread injuries.
"NSW school cleaners are trapped in a privatised system that lands them with impossible workloads,' she said.
"Workers who are expected to do more than 600 tasks in a day report serious injuries as they rush from job to job."
Cleaners from the Illawarra and the South Coast contract area reported the highest rate of injuries of all contract areas and these included a broken wrist, a crushed hand and bruising after a fall.
Data from government insurer iCare showed cleaners at NSW government schools experienced the third highest rate of injuries of any profession, after furniture deliverers and shearers, based on workers compensation premiums.
Cleaners at non-government schools in NSW had half the rate of injuries.
In the run up to the 2023 NSW election, school cleaners campaigned for the new government to bring contracts in house. At the time, Labor promised to review cleaning services at NSW public schools if elected.
"An elected Minns Labor government will review the cleaning services in NSW public schools to ensure these services are high quality into the future."
A spokesperson for Education Minister Pru Car said the government was committed to delivering this review.
"Work is underway to establish a review working group to examine a wide range of issues associated with cleaning contracts, including the pay, conditions and the safety of workers," the spokesperson said.
"The review will consider the views of staff, students, workers, suppliers, and parents in informing the future of school cleaning in NSW."
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said while the management of the contract was done by NSW Public Works on behalf of the government, it was the responsibility of contractors to monitor the health and safety of their staff.
"All cleaners are employed by contractors who have a responsibility to monitor the health and safety of their staff, however, the department regularly discusses the safety and performance of contractors with NSW Public Works to ensure the welfare of employees."
*Charlotte said she was optimistic that the system could change.
"We are hopeful now, cleaners are the backbone of the industry."
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