The FWO’s Guides to Contracting Labour and Supply Chains: First Views.

Businessman & NewspaperSome preliminary views on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s new guides to labor contracting.

Firstly, they are a very timely resource in view of the FWO’s stated intention to extend accessorial liability to accountants & other trusted advisors.

Next, I really like the focus on inquiry, transparency, and the use of contractual controls, which the FWO prudently suggests users should have checked by their lawyers!

At the same time, I wonder if there’s a useful conversation to be had with the FWO about the architecture of these so-called “labor supply chains”; and whether there might be value in viewing them, not so much as a hierarchy of supply, as a system of co-ordinated roles.

The guides seem to focus on sub-contracting without differentiating it from outsourcing. Consequently, there’s a risk that the type of “sub-contracting” presented in the guides may not distinguish clearly between labor engagement roles (e.g. labor-hire and workforce contracting); labor sourcing roles (e.g. source/select/place); and labor management roles (e.g. contract management – including a variety of MSP & MVA arrangements). Additionally, workforce logistics roles (transport, accommodation, catering etc) & migration assistance roles seem to be “out of view” of the type of labor sub-contracting presented in the guide. That’s important because exploitation is possible at any of those role interfaces.

To illustrate the point, it would be possible for a workforce contractor, who was using the template questionnaire, which the FWO has produced, to respond to the first question in the following way:

Q: Do you subcontract any of the services you provide to us? If yes, briefly state why they are independent contractors rather than employees…

A: No. We’re a workforce contractor and we’re going to harvest your strawberries (or do your cleaning, collect your trolleys…etc) ourselves…

After that, the answer to every other question is either, “no” or, “not applicable”.

Without differentiating between sub-contracting (i.e. passing responsibility for part of the contract works to someone else) and outsourcing (i.e. acquiring services to enable the contractor to focus on its core contractual responsibility), the information that the FWO’s template question won’t solicit, and the answer won’t tell, could be:

A (cont’d): But to do it, we’re going to acquire labour-hire services from a firm that acquires its placement services, payroll services, contact management and workforce logistics services from X, Y & Z.

So, there might be a strong argument as to why a system of roles approach to the challenge that is presented by the exploitation of supply chain labour might offer considerable advantages over the hierarchy of supply approach evident in the FWO’s treatment of sub-contracting.

Finally, it’s a pity that we continue to speak of “labour supply chains” and “providing workers”, as though labour and workers were commodities. What is needed, I think, is a more sophisticated analysis of the auxiliary workforce services networks that support supply chain operations. At those points in the guide, where the FWO departs from supply chain language and adopts network language, the case for taking “practical steps… to minimise …legal or reputational risks” is far more compelling; and the measures suggested by those steps are much more within reach .

Hopefully the work that is presently being done towards developing a certification program will help to provide a framework for that analysis.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

 

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