Government pandemic response helps Victorians return to work

Thousands of Victorians have returned to work as part of the Working for Victoria initiative, a $500 million fund matching thousands of Victorians who have lost their jobs with employers who need staff.  

Lucy Pellegrino had never considered a career in cleaning or sanitation. A duty manager at a Melbourne sports facility the St Kilda resident is also in her third year of a teaching degree.

But when coronavirus prompted the shutdown of gyms and aquatic centres, she sought ways to adapt her skills so she could continue to work and pay her rent.

Lucy cleaning outdoor seats“A lot of people were put out of work and my shifts dropped dramatically,” Lucy said. “Our bosses had a deployment program and really encouraged us to register with Working for Victoria when we were stood down so we could be reengaged in the community and work for the government in another capacity.”

On April 23, Lucy started a new job with Spotless as team leader of a cleaning crew working in the City of Yarra, a role created through Working for Victoria.

Lucy joins 500 recruits who will be employed in a $12.9 million cleaning program to improve hygiene and safety across the city. The City of Melbourne oversees the program, which will recruit, train and employ the cleaners for at least three months through cleaning companies Spotless and Citywide, in the cities of Melbourne, Yarra, Port Phillip, Stonnington and Maribyrnong.

“I was still working about one shift a fortnight in my substantive job, but the hours had dropped to the point where it wasn’t sustainable to support myself, so it was important that I found work,” she said.

“I returned from Italy where I did an international teaching placement just before the lockdown hit. I am doing my honours year next year so I’m also trying to stay engaged with uni.”

To accommodate her studies, Lucy is working three days a week for Spotless and studying online the other two.

“I’m leading a team of about eight people who are cleaning and sanitising high-contact spots around the City of Yarra,” she said.

Diversity among the group – redundant hospitality workers, people supporting their families and international students – adds an interesting social element to the work.

“There are all these different backgrounds, it’s very diverse, and we come from everywhere; Nepal, Italy, a couple from India, Sri Lanka and from Melbourne,” Lucy said.

“It’s a huge benefit, I think, and everyone is very grateful for the opportunity. Yesterday we were getting to know each other and we were passing on recipes from different cultures. We were all sanitising and talking about the best way to make a curry, then talking about the best carbonara recipe. Everyone is sharing their lives and their cultures even though we have to maintain our distance – 1.5 metres. We’re very conscious about safety!”

Lucy said the opportunity to work in a meaningful way gave the team a sense of purpose.

“Having a purpose has been really, really good mentally for all of us,” she said.

“Most people have gone from not really doing much, sitting at home, and now there is a sense we are contributing to the community. We’re all there for the same reasons. It was quite nice to feel united in this sense, all doing a meaningful task and building our incomes during this crisis.”

Anyone legally allowed to work in Australia, including people who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus, can participate in Working for Victoria. Job-seekers, businesses seeking workers and people wishing to retrain for new roles can register at www.vic.gov.au/workingforvictoria

Read another of our case studies about the Working for Victoria fund.