Businesses hung out to dry

Underhanded: Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath with local dry cleaner operators Shane Thompson and Jack Heger. photograph zac standish

By Zac Standish

DRY cleaners across Gippsland have been left reeling after the state government announced a new procurement policy that would end the local laundering of Ambulance Victoria uniforms.

Under this new arrangement all Ambulance uniforms in regional Victoria will be collected from local stations, transported up to centralised facility in Shepparton, cleaned and then returned.

Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said this was an incredibly disappointing result for local business.

“We have a situation where there have been long standing contracts and long standing arrangements with local dry cleaning services and Ambulance Victoria,” Ms Bath said.

“They have had a fantastic relationship which has been responsive and to the highest standard, so to see the state government’s procurement policy create a situation where there is a centralised contract and removing the till out of these local businesses is just ludicrous, unacceptable and needs to be overturned.”

One of the many local establishments to lose all important trade as a result, Moe Civic Dry Cleaners owner Jack Heger said this new policy serves as another significant blow to his business.

“It just felt like a kick in the guts really, it seems like it is just one thing after the other at the moment during COVID and losing Fire Rescue late last year – it certainly has been tough recently,” Mr Heger said.

“I went down to the Ambulance station to pick up my bag of laundry and it wasn’t there, so I then spoke to the Ambulance people and they weren’t all that thrilled either so it has been a bit underhanded I think.”

He said the past 18 months has brought about a great amount of stress and anxiety as he keeps battling the constant obstacles being thrown at the business.

“I have never been a stressful person or never dealt with any mental health but the last 18 months has been pretty trying,” he said.

“Generally we would do around six to 15 pairs of trousers a week and half a dozen jackets perhaps, and that figure fluctuates weekly, but over the whole month it does all add up and really helps our business.

“Ambulance and the Fire Rescue were just our bread and butter, they pay monthly it was a great arrangement so to now lose them when we have been doing it for over 40 years it is a big blow.”

To make matters worse, a breakdown in communication saw many local dry cleaners unaware that their contract with Ambulance Victoria was no longer valid.

Ms Bath said this was simply unacceptable.

“They (dry cleaners) were blindsided by this, rumours are one thing but when you have had a long standing with a government department, that relationship should have had the integrity to communicate and even offer for these local businesses to tender,” she said.

“The fact that they government has drawn up all the local tenders into one large contract really makes it anti-competitive but there is no reason why – if there was something wrong with the service you could understand it, but this service has been of the highest quality.”

Along with the financial burden, she also wanted to identify the extra stress this new arrangement places on the environment.

“It doesn’t make any sense environmentally, we are supposed to be focused on a reduced carbon footprint, but through this policy uniforms are going to be picked up from stations across regional Victoria and trucked to one location and then trucked back,” she said.

“The carbon footprint of that just does not stack up in an environmentally conscious world.”

In response to these concerns raised by Ms Bath and local contractors, the Department of Health offered this response describing how the tender application process operated.

“As is standard practice, Ambulance Victoria launched a tender process for dry cleaning, linen and laundry services in early 2020, and any and all providers – no matter how big or small – were invited to tender for services in their local area,” the Department of Health spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately, no Gippsland based businesses submitted a tender application – businesses awarded the new contracts are based in Victoria, in both regional and metropolitan areas.”