Labour Hire licensing in Labor's sights

CRACKDOWN: Brett Edgington and Jaala Pulford at the Trades Hall in Ballarat spoke about dodgy labor hire firms and worker's rights. Picture: Victoria Stone-Meadows.
CRACKDOWN: Brett Edgington and Jaala Pulford at the Trades Hall in Ballarat spoke about dodgy labor hire firms and worker's rights. Picture: Victoria Stone-Meadows.

A new state government scheme to ensure labour hire workers are treated fairly will affect workers all across the Ballarat region. 

The announcement comes on the back of recommendations from the Government’s independent inquiry into the practices of labour hire firms in the state. 

Speaking in Ballarat on Monday, Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said the scheme will see employers and labour hire firms fined if they are found to be breaching workplace pay and conditions. 

“We have a problem with unscrupulous employers doing the wrong thing,” she said. 

“Most employers are absolutely committed to doing the right thing but they are having to compete with people wanting to undercut minimum legal standards.”

The scheme will see employers and labour hire firms registered under a licensing system that will be overseen by a commissioner in a bid to enforce working conditions for labour hire workers. 

Ms Pulford said the new scheme will make it easier for employers to make sure the workforce they hire through a third party firm are providing legal working conditions. 

“We are establishing a licensing scheme that will mean that employers doing the right thing are not being undercut by those doing the wrong thing,” she said. 

“We are not interested in creating new and different standards or unnecessary red tape, it will be quite straight forward.”

“Business that have seasonal changes and are in need who are looking to do some third party contracting will be able to look up the labour hire companies operating in their area and know they are using someone operating in the law.”

The legislation and licensing system is expected to be introduced to parliament later this year.

Trades Council is on board 

Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council Secretary Brett Edgington said the changes will be good for workers across many industries in Ballarat and surrounds. 

Mr Edgington said the changing face of industry from Bacchus Marsh to Horsham has seen a spike in the number of labour hire workers and labour hire workers being utilised in industries they haven’t before. 

“Labour Hire is necessary in industries from fruit picking down in Bacchus to the Avoca and Stawell areas as well as agriculture.”

“However, we are seeing labour hire in industries like IT and accounting and traditional white collar sectors with exploitation right across the board,” he said. 

“Manufacturing is a particularly bad and it’s an area that has concerned us for some time.”

According to Mr Edgington, up to half of the workforce of the region’s major manufacturers is made up of labour hire workers and it’s causing issues in the pay and conditions of all workers. 

“What we are seeing is traditional secure skilled jobs being made to be precarious jobs and we are seeing massive turn over of staff in manufacturing with very insecure working patterns,” he said. 

“We understand that labour hire has a legitimate place and if there is an industry that has a big surge, they need to be able to bring in the flexible labour hire workforce to meet that demand.”

“But what we don’t want is they bring in the workforce then slowly and insidiously encamp that workforce into their own operations for the long term.”

“The problem we are seeing is there has been a long term proposition to transition a workforce to labour hire because it exempts you from normal legal protections your workforce would have and it allows you to start eroding wages and conditions.”

He said now the Victorian state government had decided to introduce a licensing system, along with Queensland and the ACT, the Trades Council want to see the federal government take lead on the issue. 

“We applaud the state government for this step but urge the federal government to take this step as well,” he said. 

“Unless we can get the federal government on board and bring federal changes about, some of the labour hire firms will just cross the border.”

Industry is unsure about the scheme 

The Recruitment and Consulting Services Association is a peak industry association for the recruitment and workforce service industries in Australia and New Zealand. 

Association CEO Charles Cameron said the proposed licencing system will cause headaches for those employers and operators who are already working within the law. 

“We are perplexed to be honest,” he said. 

“The Victorian Government has spent a lot of time and money engaging an independent inquiry head who conducted a thorough review and recommended a licensing system in problem industries, not a universal one.”

According to Mr Cameron the inquiry showed evidence of exploitation in the horticulture, food processing and cleaning industries and he said having licensing outside these industries was a waste.

“While we don’t support licencing generally, if they were to introduce one and limit to those sectors we would understand why,” he said. 

“However, this scheme will cause huge red tape costs for business and we are concerned this scheme is going to be used to promote industrial interests.”

“We want to knock out illegal and unscrupulous operators that are doing massive damage to our brand but why have a licensing scheme that will introduce regulatory burdens upon providers who are highly professional and comply with the law?”