One really has to question the comparative methodology of yet another a publicly funded “labour hire inquiry”, which seems impliedly to justify a pro-licence position before anyone has given too much consideration to the history of regulation that has led to licence schemes in Australia and New Zealand being abandoned as anti-competitive arrangements that serve little useful purpose.
If important lessons are to be learned, they will need be taken from comparative jurisdictions – i.e. jurisdictions, that like Australia, have lightly regulated labour markets and liberal markets for goods and services. So it might be a good idea to take lessons from jurisdictions closer to home.
Well, here are a few lessons:
- Queensland could learn that it has committed to a “seamless national economy” and a “national workplace relations system”.
- Queensland could learn that the labour market in Australia is only lightly regulated; and that Australia has liberal markets for goods and services.
- Queensland could learn that, typically, lighter regulation has been associated with higher levels of compliance and lower levels of informal or undeclared work.
- Queensland could learn that labour market regulation has passed to the Commonwealth, where labour-hire is not subjected to any licence requirement.
- Queensland could learn that Federal Labor’s draft Bill to Protect Australian Workers, whilst it proposes tougher penalties, does NOT include a labour-hire licensing element.
- Queensland could learn that Western Australia is proposing to abandon its (restrictive) employment agents licensing system as an ineffective measure, having observed:
despite the existing long standing licensing regime, a common complaint received by the Department is that of unlicensed trading as an employment agent, suggesting that this issue already exists to some extent.
- Queensland could learn that there is no evidence that employment services providers in those States and Territories that have retained licensing (A.C.T., S.A. and W.A.) are any better or worse than those in States that don’t have licensing (i.e. everyone else – including Queensland).
- Queensland could learn from its own experience of dismantling its private employment agents licensing scheme in 2005, having done little to enforce it up to that time; and little to enforce its Private Employment Agents (Code of Conduct) Regulation since.
- Queensland could cast its mind back to its own “Belmont Slave Camp” scandal of 1977 and recall that the allegations of exploitation on that occasion did not involve any labour-hire firm.
- Maybe it could learn that labour exploitation is a problem that requires demand-side regulation as well as supply-side regulation. It might even like to go a bit further back in its history and reflect upon the economic and social drivers that led to an indentured labour system and the exploitation of Pacific Island workers in its cane fields.
- If it wants to take lessons from jurisdictions further afield, Queensland could learn from California’s Supply Chain Transparency laws that target human trafficking and exploitation only apply to firms having worldwide gross receipts of one hundred million dollars or more US$100,000,000.00.
- Queensland could learn that in the UK where the Modern Slavery Act applies to firms with an annual turnover of £36 million, Companies are struggling with the letter and the spirit of the Act.
- Queensland could learn that labour exploitation manifests across a “spectrum of infringement” from the deliberately (and sometimes organised) criminal to the merely inadvertent and aspiring compliant. A one-size-fits-all licensing scheme is outdated and poorly adapted to address the abhorrent conditions that foster labour exploitation.
So, whilst there are undoubtedly important lessons that can be taken, are they the lessons that QLD is prepared to learn? That remains to be seen…