Thousands of the low-paid employees of the collapsed cleaning company Swan Services will miss out on unpaid workplace entitlements because they are foreigners, administrators say.
Swan Services collapsed last week and is likely to be liquidated. It owes $1.6 million to its 2466 employees for wages alone. Its workers were said to earn $17 an hour cleaning shopping centres and $21 an hour cleaning office buildings.
Many have found work with different contractors, but Michael Crosby, the national president of the United Voice union, said they were owed two weeks' pay, leave and leave loading, and superannuation from March onwards.
Swan Services owes a further $2.7 million to trade creditors such as cleaning-product suppliers. The bill for for government creditors, primarily the tax office, is yet to be determined.
Pitcher Partners partner and Swan Services voluntary administrator Anthony Elkerton said the employee entitlements comprised an "unusually high percentage" of Swan's debt load, a reflection of the labour-intensity of the industry.
And he estimated that only 30 to 35 per cent of Swan's workers would be eligible for the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, a taxpayer-funded scheme that covers unpaid wages, annual leave and redundancy entitlements of workers whose employer has gone bankrupt or into liquidation until money can be retrieved by insolvency.
Only Australian citizens or holders of a permanent visa or a special category visa are eligible for the scheme.
Mr Elkerton said Pitcher Partners would investigate the reasons for Swan's failure and it was "too early to predict a return to creditors". The collapse of the 47-year-old business has been blamed on unprofitable contracts, a computer glitch and a delay in receiving payments worth an estimated $2.5 million from customers.
Mr Elkerton said the payment of any employee entitlements would "rely heavily on debtor collection rather than asset sales".
The comments come as economists tip a rise in the national unemployment rate to 6 per cent by the end of the year.
Questioned whether there was evidence companies were increasingly collapsing with little money for entitlements knowing the taxpayer would pick up the tab, Bill Shorten, the Employment and Workplace Relations minister, said: "No, I talk on a regular basis to insolvency practitioners, and I've had no advice to the effect from the department either."