/I am destroyed: Couple lodges court claim for almost $500k in unpaid wages

I am destroyed: Couple lodges court claim for almost $500k in unpaid wages


May 13, 2019 05:23:41

When Jimmy Lakovski was called into a snap Friday afternoon meeting at the Melbourne council he worked for, he wasn’t expecting to be told his contract wasn’t being renewed.

Key points:

  • Bill and Jackie Lakovski say they are owed nearly $500,000 in backpay from Australian Environmental Cleaning Services
  • They have lodged a claim in the Federal Court
  • The company provides services for Hume City Council, which said it did not need to know about its cleaners’ conditions

“I had no clue,” he said. “I thought it was just going to be a regular chat to catch up and see how my progress is going.”

Until then his progress at Hume City Council, in Melbourne’s outer north, had been going extremely well.

Last month, Mr Lakovski’s supervisor gave him a glowing performance review for his work developing software for the council’s customer service department.

Mr Lakovski claims his contract was axed because his parents — who had cleaned the Hume council offices for six years — had tried to blow the whistle on the Council’s cleaning contractor.

“I said, it has to be from this. No other reason,” he said.

“I was shocked.”

The council did not respond to ABC’s questions about why Mr Lakovski’s contract was not being renewed.

‘I am destroyed’

Mr Lakovski’s parents, Bill and Jackie Lakovski, are claiming nearly $500,000 in unpaid wages and superannuation from the company that employed them to clean for the Hume council, Makkim Pty Ltd, which trades as Australian Environmental Cleaning Services (AECS).

Last week, they lodged a claim in the Federal Court for their unpaid wages.

“Mentally and physically, I am destroyed,” Mrs Lakovski said.

She said she and her husband worked 60 hours a week each — often overnight, with no penalty rates or overtime and no superannuation.

They even had to provide their own equipment, like mops and vacuum cleaners.

“We had to be available for them 24-7,” she said.

“Starting 5:30 in the afternoon, finishing 3 o’clock in the morning.

“We never saw the day. We only knew the night — and on the road from site to site to site. That’s what we do.”

Often, Mrs Lakovksi said, the couple would work as a team to finish the tasks — effectively working for $10 an hour each.

Their adult children grew increasingly concerned.

“What hurt most was just watching my mum go downhill,” Jimmy Lakovski said.

“Not being able to just spend time with us, just laying in bed depressed.”

His sister, Marija, is furious at their treatment.

“There has not been a thing that my parents have not done for that company,” she said.

“They’ve worked weekends, public holidays … they basically worked more than they were at home.”

Council says it is not responsible for cleaners’ pay

The ABC has not received a response from the cleaning contractor they worked for, AECS, nor its parent company, Makkim Pty Ltd.

The company claims to employ more than 450 cleaners, working contracts across Melbourne in corporate and public organisations, large and small.

Hume City Council is one of them, which is why the Lakovskis approached it for help in May last year.

When they got no response, they emailed the council CEO Domenic Isola directly, saying: “The problem we are having with Makkim … is for very much being underpaid in our hourly rate and not being paid on time.

“I don’t know if this concerns you but you are our last option for help,” the email said.

Again, they got no response.

The ABC asked Mr Isola why the council had not investigated the concerns raised by the Lakovskis about its cleaning contractor.

In a brief statement, Mr Isola said:

“…[W]e are not privy to individual employee terms and conditions and nor should we have to be.”

Hume Mayor Carly Moore declined to comment.

But the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus said the council could not wipe its hands of the matter.

“I think in any supply chain, the person at the top of the supply chain bears responsibility,” she said.

“These councils, along with a whole lot of businesses, have engaged in contracting out, and they’ll have people that just look at the cheapest price.

“But if you look at the cheapest price, and you then don’t care that workers would earn less than the minimum wage — I think that you absolutely have responsibility.”

Jackie and Bill Lakovski both now work for new employers, and say they are being properly paid.

Last week, they lodged a claim in the Federal Court for their unpaid wages from Makkim and AECS.

“I want Makkim company to pay me what they stole from us and from our hard work,” Mrs Lakovski said.

“I am happy to go to work cleaning.

“But pay me right. Don’t steal. Don’t take advantage of hardworking people.”