Our love/hate relationship with Canberra’s windscreen washers

Jane Speechley 6 October 2017 7
Window washer

Take a good drive around Canberra’s suburbs and there are some things you’re almost certain to encounter.

A roundabout or two, definitely.

A few kangaroos – dead or alive – absolutely.

And that most controversial feature of Canberra’s intersections – the traffic-light windscreen washer.

Clad in high-vis and wielding their trusty squeegee, they’re almost as much a part of our roadscape as cyclists and Action buses.

But the role of our iconic windscreen washers has been up for debate again recently, following a post on the popular Canberra Drivers Facebook page which has almost 140 comments to date

Hey guys, I want to share my incident because I’m sure I’m not the only one!

Yesterday afternoon … I was driving home from work. I stopped at the lights on Northbourne Avenue and Barry Drive.

Whilst at the lights a tax evading nuisance creating human asked if I wanted my window washed to which I nicely replied no thanks. At this point he starts to do it anyway… I start to ask him to stop and get off my car to which he starts yelling ‘it’s only fucking water you must be a man hater, people like you must hate men …

At this point I’m utterly gobsmacked and stare at him in astonishment and tell him again politely (or maybe with a few choice words) to get off my car.. At this point he starts to beat my windscreen with his window washing pole again calling me a ‘man hater’ …

I just want to clarify I’m in no way a man hater but I am a scum hater and this sort of absurd behaviour shouldn’t have to be tolerated by drivers on their drive home from work.

We Canberrans seem to have a love/hate relationships with these interesting characters, who populate many of our major intersections.

There’s no shortage of people who support their work, saying windscreen washers are actually demonstrating a strong work ethic, and doing their best to earn a few honest dollars rather than relying upon government support.

Many also say they provide a useful service to motorists while bringing a bit of colour, character and a sense of community to the town.

For example, when Ian ‘Scrubby’ Stokes passed away, after washing windscreens at the intersection of Antill Street and Northbourne Avenue in Dickson for more than 20 years, he was hailed by many as a much-loved local icon.

A portrait of Ian ‘Scrubbby’ Stokes by Canberra artist Barbara van der Linden for the Faces of Canberra Centenary exhibition.

Described as ‘a real gentleman’, members of the public even placed flowers at the intersection in tribute to him.

However, as the Facebook post above suggests, not all our windscreen washers are making such a positive impression. Not surprisingly, there’s been heated discussion when we’ve covered the issue on The Riot ACT previously.

Critics of the practice say they often feel harassed and pressured to pay for a service they don’t want or need. There are plenty of anecdotal reports of windscreen washers who won’t take no for an answer.

Inevitably, and rather sadly, the character of those who do this work is often called into question.

They’re labelled druggies, junkies, bludgers, welfare cheats, tax evaders or worse.

Heck, they’re probably earning tens of thousands of dollars a year tax-free, right?!

It’s worth clearing up a couple of myths and misconceptions.

Is this practice legal? Yes. Windscreen washing, which falls under the category of ‘roadside commerce’ is perfectly legal in the ACT. According to Access Canberra:

A pedestrian may stand on, or move onto, a road to:
– solicit contributions, employment or business from an occupant of a vehicle; or
– hitchhike; or
– display an advertisement; or
– sell or offer articles for sale; or
– wash or clean, or offer to clean, the windscreen of a vehicle.
Persons conducting these activities must comply with all territory laws including traffic and safety legislation.

Worth noting roadside commerce – such as collecting donations, selling items, or washing windscreens – illegal in every other state and territory of Australia, though enforcement is reportedly a bit patchy.

Are they exempt from tax? No. Windscreen washers, like anyone in self-employment, have the same legal obligations to declare their income and pay tax as anyone else.

Many businesses accept cash payments. Do all these businesses declare their earnings fully and honestly? Probably not. But these guys run just as great a risk as anyone else of incurring the wrath of the ATO if they don’t do the right thing.

Do you have to pay up if you say no? Definitely not. Australian Consumer Law protects us from being forced to pay for ‘unsolicited products or services’. It’s the same law that means – for example – your hairdresser can’t add a colour and treatment, and force you to pay for it, when you only requested a cut.

If you’re unfortunate enough to encounter a nasty example of the windshield-washing trade, who threatens you or causes damage to your property, you have every right to make a report to the police.

Of course, the same applies to anyone who is foolish enough to follow through on silly threats of ‘running over their feet’ or such like.

Windshield washers – a valuable local service, or criminals in our midst? Where do you stand on this issue?

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7 Responses to Our love/hate relationship with Canberra’s windscreen washers
TB TB 9:28 pm 12 Oct 17

I once witnessed a window washer walked over to wash the windscreen of a car with a female driver. She called out “NO” and waving hands across but he ignored her request and suddenly the poor driver in a panic state somehow accidentally accelerated and her car manoeuvred forward and hit the car in front at the red light. What did the washer do? He packed, emptied the bucket and walked off. He never came back since.

Another window washer approached me at an intersection light and I said no but he ignored and I yelled at him before he walked away staring at me. Remember no means no! So since “Scrubby” passed, there’s no other like him. (RIP). he used to remember me and respected me by not washing my window when I said no. Everyone has different traits that you either love them or loathe them.

Mysteryman Mysteryman 9:49 am 11 Oct 17

They provide a service that virtually nobody needs. And they generally do a pretty poor job of it, too. The fact that they are allowed to mill around intersections walking between cars all day seems a little foolish, to me.

Lucy Baker said :

Beats breaking into people’s houses to support a drug habit.

If only there were more than two options. Since they can comfortably spend all day outside, maybe they should consider getting *useful* low skilled labour jobs where they can be on the books and actually pay tax. Then they can support whatever habit they want.

Rollersk8r Rollersk8r 4:44 pm 09 Oct 17

Haha – wrath of the ATO! I hardly think windows washers have ABNs, are registered for GST or issue tax invoices? In any case I’ve not seen a single window washer in years. I assumed it had somehow been phased out.

chewy14 chewy14 10:19 am 09 Oct 17

They should be banned.

They often harass people who try to turn down their “service” and they regularly target women as they think they can pressure into giving them money for an unwanted window clean. Particularly when their clientele can’t actually get away from them until the lights change.

They may not be exempt from tax, just as they are supposed to declare their income to Centrelink but to think that actually happens is pushing the realms of credibility.

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 7:15 pm 08 Oct 17

Beats breaking into people’s houses to support a drug habit.

Maryann Mussared Maryann Mussared 9:56 am 08 Oct 17

Everything in this town in regulated, so I think windscreen washers should be also. Hi-Vis wear mandatory and the sponge washed out between windscreens. The other day I was approached by someone wearing brown on an overcast day, and I had watched him scrape his dirty old sponge across two particularly dusty screens before he approached me, without even rinsing.

Cheesewhizz99 Cheesewhizz99 9:00 am 08 Oct 17

I’m always a little worried they’re going to damage my car or get aggressive like with the comment above. I don’t have anything against people making a few bucks by working, but I’d rather not be accosted while sitting at a set of lights. Get rid of it.

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