One might wonder what sort of Storm Season could be brewing for Queensland’s labour hire providers.
When Queensland’s labour hire licensing scheme commenced on 16 April 2018, many labour hire providers jumped right in and lodged their applications. Since that time, approximately 2,400 applications have been approved, with a further 600 still waiting for approval as at 10 August 2018.
What’s interesting about those 600 pending applications is that about 500 of them date back to the lodgement cut-off date of 15 June 2018. Two hundred go back as far as April and May. Nine of them date back to Day 1 of the scheme.
A quick scan of the pending applications list also suggests a significant representation from amongst labour hire providers to the horticulture and farming sectors.
Is this “normal”?
Labour Hire Licensing Queensland’s website advises:
How long does it take?
Once you have made your application and paid your licence fee it is anticipated a decision on your application will be made within 28 business days.[i]
So, why is it taking so long for these applications to be processed?
Let’s have a look at what might be going on behind the scenes.
On 4 May 2017, just three weeks after the scheme commenced, Labour Hire Licensing Queensland (LHLQ) issued a bulletin, highlighting problems it had identified with several applications and signalling its intention to take action on a number of complaints.
We have identified several applications in which we suspect inaccurate information has been supplied about the supply of visa workers.
We work closely with other State and Commonwealth Government agencies to ensure the accuracy of information received, including the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Border Force (Home Affairs), Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, WorkCover Queensland, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and local councils.
Labour hire providers must ensure that they are providing accurate information in their applications to enable us to properly assess their suitability to obtain a licence. Strong penalties apply for providing false and misleading information. We will suspend licences obtained as a result of the provision of incorrect or misleading information, and will cancel licences granted to those who are no longer fit and proper persons.
We will also be acting on a number of complaints received from the public about unscrupulous labour hire operators.[ii]
Now let me be perfectly clear about this – just because an application has not been processed and has been outstanding since April or May does NOT mean that the applicant is an “unscrupulous labour hire provider”, or that it has provided incorrect information in connection with its application.
Applicants on the pending application “Green List”, who lodged their applications on or before the 15 June cut-off date, can continue to provide labour hire services until a decision is made and the application is removed from the list. If the licence is granted, they will move to the register of licence holders. If it is refused, they have review and appeal rights; and can apply for a stay whilst the decision is reviewed.
However, on the same day, LHLQ issued a second bulletin in which it announced its intention to conduct a visitation program for “labour hire providers, users and workers to provide information about their obligations and rights under the new laws”.
Somewhat ominously, the bulletin concluded:
During the visits, we’ll conduct audits to ensure applicants and licensees have provided accurate information in their applications and have kept the required evidence to support their declarations (e.g. fit and proper person declaration).[iii]
Shortly thereafter in May, and without any further fanfare, LHLQ suspended the licence of one provider – RJP Contracting Service Pty Ltd. The reasons were not published at the time.
Finally, on 7 August 2018, Industrial Relations Minister, Grace Grace, confirmed that RJP’s licence had been cancelled. The reason stated was that RJP:
…was found to have provided false information about the supply of visa workers on their application and had also breached the Fair Work Act 2009.
The Minister continued:
Labour hire providers should be aware that if you do the wrong thing, you’ll be found out and you’ll be dealt with accordingly,
We make no apologies for taking a tough stance against dodgy operators or unlicensed operators, who don’t do the right thing by their workers.[iv]
The decision to cancel RJP’s licence may yet be overturned on review or appeal. That matter should not be regarded as having been concluded and it still has some way to run.
But why has there been only one suspension and cancellation if the problems were as widespread as LHLQ indicated back in May? And what might LHLQ’s decision forecast for other providers?
On one optimistic view, RJP was the only provider to have come unstuck in the LHLQ audit sweep.
On another, it looks like LHLQ could be running a sort of test case to see how well its processes work, getting all its ducks lined up in readiness for more refusals, suspensions and cancellations to come.
And if that is the case, some Queensland labour hire providers could be in for a rough Storm Season come November.
Andrew C. Wood