“Tuesday TalkAbout” Summer 2020 Program to Address Recruitment & Staffing Sector “Waypoints”

Tuesday TalkAbout takes a new direction for its Summer 2020 Program of free, short webinars, as we discuss some larger themes at work in the recruitment and staffing sector.

Now, I certainly don’t claim to be a seer or a futurist. I observe and interpret. So, I’m not going to attempt to predict the course of the decade or anything like that.

Instead, I’ll describe the “waypoints”, which I think the recruitment & staffing sector in Australia and New Zealand has reached in eight key areas. ‘

A “waypoint” can be understood as a place on a route or pathway, a stopping point, or a point at which one’s course can be changed.

What the future holds from that point forward largely flows from the decisions and commitments which recruitment & staffing professionals make for their own organisations and professional lives – either intentionally or by default.

The observations and insights that I hope to share reflect experience gained over four decades in legal and workforce consulting practice and in recent work done with RCSA, designing its new Code for Professional Conduct, its grievance intervention guidelines & protocols, its StaffSure certification program, and many of its key resources and templates.

The eight key areas we’ll be discussing are:

1. Professional Conduct (21st January)

RCSA’s new Code for Professional Conduct has been authorised by the ACCC to commence on 8 August 2020. How is it different from previous codes or other industry codes? Why is it different? What statement does it make about emerging professionalism? How might recruitment & staffing professionals respond to it? How is it enforced and administered?

Register for the Professional Conduct “Waypoint” webinar here

2. Quality Management (28th January)

What does “quality” mean in the context of the work undertaken by recruitment & staffing professionals as labour market enablers and intermediaries. Does the ISO 9001 definition of “quality” say it all? How well does the “customer focus” requirement stand up to the professional conduct responsibilities of recruitment & staffing professionals? Is quality perceived as outcome or experience? Is it even an either/or question?

Register for the Quality Management “Waypoint” webinar here

3. Risk Management (4th February)

We know (at least I hope we do) that risk is defined for the purposes of risk management and quality management standards as the “effect of uncertainty on objectives”. But how might risk be categorised to be more manageable for recruitment & staffing professionals? What sorts of risk do recruitment & staffing professionals face in 2020? At what points does risk intersect with professionalism and quality? How can risk be managed to minimise its effects on professional and quality objectives?

Register for the Risk Management “Waypoint” webinar here

4. Collaboration (11th February)

What is “collaboration”, really? Why is it important for recruitment & staffing professionals in 2020? Is collaboration possible with customers and clients? Candidates? Competitors? Consultants? If so, how is achieved? How is it managed and maintained?

Register for the Collaboration “Waypoint” webinar here

5. Doing Business (18th February)

Something is wrong if you’re not upgrading your terms of business at least as frequently as your mobile phone! Wonder why you’re getting pushback from clients who won’t pay you that “introduction fee”, or who won’t sign up to your “all-care-no-responsibility” conditions? Terms of business modelled on 1980s recruitment & staffing practices and 1980s legal culture are no longer viable. In this session, we explain why and talk about what you can do about that.

Register for the Doing Business (Terms of Business) “Waypoint” webinar here

6. Conflict & Dispute Resolution (25th February)

Even for those who might be energised by conflict, there comes a point when stocks of energy and finances to meet the crushing cost of feeding conflict, run low. What is your conflict/ dispute profile? Do you still handle business disputes like it’s the 1980s and you’re a bank? Or have you found a better way? What are your options in 2020? What distinguishes the way you handle conflict and disputes as “professional”?

Register for the Conflict & Dispute Resolution “Waypoint” webinar here

7. Employment Shaping (3rd March)

What is the difference between legitimate employment shaping and sham contracting or avoidance? How much flexibility is there to shape an employment relationship to suit labour market conditions in 2020? What are the limits? How do you know if you are approaching or transgressing them? Are there any “golden rules”. If so, what are they and how do you apply them?

Register for the Employment Shaping “Waypoint” webinar here

8. Independent contractor on-hire (10th March)

What are the main challenges to independent contractor on-hire in 2020? Is the business integration test still reliable? What investigations should a recruitment & staffing professional undertake to ensure that independent contractor engagement and on-hire models are compliant with a wide range of regulatory requirements and are not exploitative?

Register for the Independent Contractor On-Hire “Waypoint” webinar here

I do hope you’ll join me when WorkAccord’s Tuesday TalkAbout Summer Program returns at 8:30 am AEDT on Tuesday 21 January 2020 and I’d love to learn of any questions you might have in advance.

 

Andrew C. Wood

Industry Certification Schemes – Regulatory Alternatives?

TT_8 Cwertification Full

Can industry certification schemes be viable alternatives to statutory licensing schemes?

In WorkAccord’s next free Tuesday TalkAbout I’ll discuss different types of certification schemes and consider their pros and cons as regulatory alternatives. In doing so, I’ll also look at Regulatory Impact Statement that supported the Victorian licensing scheme to see how it worked. What assumptions were made? Were they correct? How might a federal RIS and outcome differ?

I hope you’ll join me.

Andrew C. Wood

 

Here’s what I’m thinking about: “Exploitation” and “Wage Theft”

“Exploitation” and “Wage theft” are emotive and pejorative terms that are used freely by commentators and policymakers calling for harsh penalties. But can any “breach of minimum employment standards”[1] count as exploitation?

Is an employer guilty of exploitation or wage theft for “not complying with the minimum legal entitlements of their employees”?[2] or is something more required to earn the badge of iniquity? Something that colours the non-compliance as misconduct or unconscionable?

What do you think?

Slide1

You’re cordially invited to come along and have your say in WorkAccord’s next Tuesday TalkAbout, on November 26, when we’ll be talking about “Modern Slavery, Exploitation and Vulnerable Worker Protections”.

I hope you’ll join me!

Andrew C. Wood

 

[1] The understanding conveyed by New Zealand MBIE’s Consultation Paper on Temporary Migrant Worker Exploration, Oct 2019.

[2] The understanding conveyed by the Australian government Migrant Worker Taskforce in its report, March 2019.

Here’s What I’m Thinking About: “Labour Supply Chains”

This is my first attempt at video. Please treat it kindly. I clearly need a director, hair and make-up!

Nevertheless, I do hope you’ll join me for our next Tuesday TalkAbout on 19th November at 8:30 am AEDT, when we’ll discuss LAbour Supply Chains.

Here’s a link to register for the webinar. it’s free and it’s live.

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_wttK2Q2gS_eo1UfY2dIiOw

Andrew C. Wood

Post-Law, Code 5 and Change

Change yourself concept background

I’m looking forward to leaving the Law.

Yes, after more than 40 years as a student and practitioner, I’ll be retiring from legal practice at the end of this month. Some people have asked me, kindly, if I’ll be doing any “non-legal work” in my “retirement”. That sounds a bit doddery and even vaguely unlawful!  I prefer to think of what I’ll be doing as “post-law”.

Post-law aims to resolve conflict and build accord without recourse to law, legal rules, or legal processes. It links more to the pull of community and relationship than to the push of State and power. It finds affinity with social norms and professional standards rather than with tribunal processes and regulations.

In my case, a transition to post-law is prompted by critical attitudes developed in the informal justice movement over the years and draws together learnings from mediation, conflict resolution, and integrative practice.

My friends in the workforce enablement, recruitment, and staffing industries may be aware of recent work I’ve been doing to design industry codes, standards, and conflict resolution models that are kinder, more human-centred, and more values-informed in their pursuit of professional excellence than the legalistic, anti-competitive, and self-interested models that are often promoted as codes of “association ethics”.

The RCSA Code for Professional Conduct (“Code 5”), recently the subject of a favourable ACCC draft authorisation, is a project that is informed in many ways by post-law thinking.

It replaces a professional conduct regime that has been based on rules and punishments with one that is based on professional values and guidance. It is not written as an abridgment of selected laws (such as workplace laws, discrimination laws, consumer protection laws, or privacy laws) but as an articulation of professional values drawn from the principle of Respect for Persons and from Ethics of Care normative theory. It requires Members to adopt professional values personally and to embed them operationally in their organisations.

You might have seen the Current Affair item, aired on 27 May 2019, which reported on a Western Australian “recruiter”, who was caught on the telephone speaking in a derogatory manner about a candidate, after having “stalked” the candidate via her social media account. The recruiter declined to proceed with the candidate because of what she found in her Facebook profile…or so the story goes.

You can view the Current Affair item here:

https://www.9news.com.au/national/a-current-affair-facebook-photos-cost-job-opportunity-claim-young-woman-voicemail-latest-news-australia/c673d680-cfd0-4f67-b12a-116f913f5e96

For her part, the recruiter attempted to deal with the media confrontation with as much grace as she could muster, given the embarrassing circumstances in which she found herself.

Industry stalwart, Ross Clennett was asked to comment as an expert recruiter (impressively as always) and several lay people offered their views – mostly amounting to “it’s unfair” or “it’s discrimination”.

What intrigued me – and I think it’s worthy of comment in this context – was that “unfairness” and “discrimination” are both claims-based concepts, which rely heavily on legal rules and procedures. And as far as the legal rules go, a claim of unfairness or discrimination might not be compelling in these circumstances.

There would be some evidence of indirect discrimination on the grounds of gender if the recruiter’s stalking of social media accounts were limited to the accounts of women candidates. But that seems to lead to a bit of a dead end in this case.

There might also be some issue about privacy. But the gravamen of the complaint is not so much that the information was collected, as the way in which it was used – or more specifically the adverse judgments that the recruiter made based on the information collected and the hurtful discussion that was overheard to take place between the recruiter and her colleagues.

Law states a rule, proves a breach and then looks for a remedy.

A post-law approach might ask a question – “What is the right (or professional) thing to do here?” And then looks for a pathway to the “right” or “professional” outcome.

There is a place for both, of course. And although post-law seeks outcomes that are within law  (i.e. they are lawful), its outcomes are not achieved by law.

That is why I think that a code, which can frame conduct – not as unfair, discriminatory, or a breach of privacy; but more accurately as “unprofessional” – provides a superior framework, in many circumstances. The conduct which was portrayed in the Current Affair programme is unprofessional precisely because it fails to demonstrate the respect and care due to candidates – respect and care, in the case of RCSA’s new code, providing the two broad ethical systems that inform Code 5 and its statement of professional values.

Strip away legal arguments about whether there has been unlawful discrimination, actionable unconscionability, or breach of privacy (with all its uncertainties about where the boundaries lie), and you’ve got a simple issue – Did the recruiter act professionally? That question is not so hard to answer.

And once it has been answered, the remedial and corrective pathways – freed of technical defences – provide, in my opinion, vastly superior means of achieving satisfactory outcomes that seek, not punishment and compensation, but improvement of professional standards and remedial conduct according to a standard of restorative justice that is “becoming of a professional member” of an industry association.

In many ways, that is quite close to what I mean when I say I’m retiring from legal practice to take up “post-law” practice.

But it doesn’t mean I get to go fishing… just yet.

For me, it means moving away from a model of legal practice that I’ve become familiar with over four decades to embrace a different model with new challenges.

I’ve said to a few people that I’ll be spending my time resolving disputes rather than agitating them. But, perhaps more accurately, I’ll be working with people to help them to find ways of solving their own differences.

I’ll be developing and encouraging the potential for professional self-regulation within the workforce enablement industry – meaning behavioural self-regulation in accordance with professional values, rather than the “closed shop”, anti-competitive type of industry self (interested) regulation that is often passed off as a code of ethics.

And, through learning design work with WorkAccord and through private research, I’ll continue to explore the field of knowledge that must still be mastered if there’s to be hope for emerging professionalism within a post-law environment.

So, I’m not actually “leaving the building”, as they say. I’m just moving to a different floor. Maybe one that’s a bit closer to the ground.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

Three States of Accord (and its Opposite)

Close up of Business people shaking hands, finishing up meeting, business etiquette, congratulation, merger and acquisition conceptMuch of my work, when I am rehabilitating parties’ terms of business,  requires me to reflect on the nature and quality of their agreement (and its opposite). We are often taught that agreement is good and that disagreement or conflict is bad. However, adopting an accord-centred approach, it seems possible to reflect a little more deeply.

Accord =   the relational aspect of agreement. Often overlooked in traditional contract making, it represents the heart and spirit of the parties’ agreement – their shared and separate hopes – the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of their commitments in ways that also authentically represent the “who”.

Discord = active disagreement, often manifesting in open conflict and disputes – but sometimes containing the potential for accord in narratives thickened around threads of the “absent-but-implicit”.

Dys-cord = unhealthy agreement, the illusion of agreement, often reflecting power imbalances – may represent the compromise that everyone is unhappy with – might also represent the type of “one-up” approach to contract-making and negotiating that tips the parties towards conflict and bickering over the contract at the first upset. Although dys-cordant agreements can be legally enforceable, they often leave the parties with a lingering sense of discontent and distrust that may lead to non-co-operation and eventually undermine their true “loyalty to the bargain”. Dys-cordant agreements are inclined to “leave value on the table” – especially intangible value.

I wonder how much of what passes for agreement is something less than true accord? And how, as collaborative lawyers, we can use our skills to help our parties resolve discord and make healthier agreements.

Andrew C. Wood

Victoria’s Labour Hire Licensing Proposal: Any hope of an even playing field? Not much.

Victoria is the next cab off the rank with labour hire licensing. And there’s not much time to get submissions in before 6 December. Much of what is described in the consultation paper follows the now familiar pattern in Queensland and South Australia.

It is clear that Victoria is giving a bit more thought to what the exceptions might be and is seeking submissions about them. That’s an encouraging sign. But, it might be difficult to say much about the exceptions until the government reveals a working draft of its primary coverage provision.

It will be worth watching closely to see if Victoria can develop a definition of “labour hire provider” that comes to grips with the question asked in Queensland and still not answered:

“What is there to stop an unscrupulous labour hire supplier from simply re-inventing itself as an unscrupulous labour contractor?”

Judging from the consultation paper, it looks like Victoria is aiming to regulate supply forms of gangmastering/ labour hire and may ignore the substitutable use forms of gangmastering, which are common in cleaning, horticulture, trolley collection and other sectors at risk of the type of exploitation that licensing schemes are intended to prevent.

Let me explain.

The labour hire licensing schemes proposed for Queensland and South Australia prevent (for example) a farmer from dealing with a labour hire provider that employs a worker, whom it sends to the farm to work on the farm in the farm business, unless the labour hire provider has a licence.

To make this clearer, South Australia has recently introduced the following example as an amendment to the coverage provision in its Bill in order to explain what it has in mind:

Guy runs a plumbing business and has an employment contract with Tracey under which Tracey is paid to come to work each day at the plumbing business and be assigned work. Corey runs a grape growing business at which there is a problem with the plumbing. Corey enters into a contract with Guy to diagnose and fix the problem at the business and so Guy sends Tracey to Corey’s grape growing business to do the work. Guy does not provide labour hire services in sending Tracey to do work at Corey’s business.

We can all see that. But you can also see that that approach would  exclude:

Guy runs a grape harvesting business and has an employment contract with Tracey under which Tracey is paid to come to work each day to pick grapes at farms where Guy is providing harvest services. Corey runs a grape growing business at which there are grapes ready for harvesting. Corey enters into a contract with Guy to harvest the grapes and so Guy sends Tracey to Corey’s grape growing business to do the work. Guy does not provide labour hire services in sending Tracey to do work at Corey’s business.

That exclusion is significant if we are talking about a licensing scheme that is designed to prevent exploitation and even up the playing field.

It’s significant because licensing schemes that are imposed solely on supply models don’t prevent labour providers from assembling gangs of workers, housing them in squalid conditions, charging them outrageously for food, transport and accommodation, working them without breaks under a contracted overseer, outsourcing payroll to an associated entity and taking deductions from their pay – if, instead of supplying the worker to the farmer to work in the farm business, the provider merely undertakes to harvest the farmer’s crop using the workers in its own business, whilst buffering the whole arrangement through a chain of sub-contracts and outsourcing arrangements that reduce transparency and accountability.

That’s because the labour provider hasn’t supplied a worker; it has simply used a worker. And it seems that this may not amount to an avoidance measure, because the use form of gangmastering is not covered by the labour hire provider definitions that have been put up so far.

Again, to help illustrate the gaps, let’s see if we can highlight some of the essential pieces of the UK Gangmasters scheme that are missing from the Queensland and South Australian proposals (as we’ve been doing for some months) and now seem likely to be missing from this new Victorian proposal.

GLA s. 4(4)  – A person acts as a gangmaster if he uses a worker to do work to which this Act applies in connection with services provided by him to another person.

 

GLA s.4(5) – A person (“A”) acts as a gangmaster if he uses a worker to do any of the following work to which this Act applies for the purposes of a business carried on by him

(a)        harvesting or otherwise gathering agricultural produce following

(i)   a sale, assignment or lease of produce to A, or

(ii)  the making of any other agreement with A,

where the sale, assignment, lease or other agreement was entered into for the purpose of enabling the harvesting or gathering to take place;

(b)        gathering shellfish;

(c)         processing or packaging agricultural produce harvested or gathered as mentioned in paragraph (a).

 

As you can see, they’re not talking here about supply (there’s another sub-section for that).  And there’s a very good reason for it. It’s because the gangmasters, who assemble and run harvest gangs do not supply workers to farmers. They use them themselves and their use of those workers is just as prone to exploit  workers’ vulnerability as any other labour provider model.

In Australia, the three attempts at labour hire licensing that we’ve seen to date have become caught up in the rhetoric about “labour hire” and appear to have been limited by text book understandings of labour hire that have not kept pace with developments in the workforce services market.

They continue to talk about the tripartite supply model of labour provision as though it were the only model worth talking about. Whilst they imagine that there may be other models, they seem unable to clearly distinguish between them; or find  markers that might give meaning to those distinctions.

They seem to have lost sight of the type exploitation that they are trying to prevent and the distribution of that exploitation across different and largely substitutable service models. There seems to have been a critical failure to come to terms with the composition and structure of the workforce services market in this country.

The schemes have been blinkered by  attempts to create a model that covers all industry sectors – including those in which there has been no evidence of egregious exploitation that would warrant the imposition of a restrictive licensing scheme.

In doing so, they have lost the ability to create clear markers between labour contracting that needs to be regulated to even up the playing field and other forms of contracting that do not.

To cover the defect created by their lack of sophistication, they  simply double down on the tripartite supply model.

So, they end up being too wide and untargeted, whilst simultaneously leaving huge gaps, or blind spots, where the risk of exploitation remains uncontrolled or ignored.

It needs to be stated plainly. You don’t create an even playing field for labour hire providers in the workforce services market by imposing on them a restrictive licensing scheme that fails to regulate the supply of substitutable workforce services operating in the same market.

That’s why the UK gangmaster licensing scheme covers both supply and use forms of gangmastering. It’s also why an industry sector specific scheme makes a lot more sense… that is if you’re really trying to target sectors at the greatest risk of exploitation.

Queensland rushed its legislation through parliament ahead of the election and missed the opportunity to address its shortcomings.  In South Australia, the penny is starting to drop, but still has a long way to fall. Victoria has a chance to get it right, but hasn’t given itself much time to do so, with submissions on exceptions due by 6 December and no sight of the draft legislation yet.

Let’s see how this one goes from here. We shouldn’t have to wait too long!

 

Andrew C. Wood

Queensland’s Labour Hire Licensing Bill: A Report Card on the Parliament’s F&A Committee’s Public Hearing.

Man reading newspapers with superimposed punctuation symbols uid 1461028

I’ve just finished viewing the televised replay of the Queensland Parliament’s Finance & Administration Committee’s public hearing regarding the Labour Hire Licensing Bill conducted in Brisbane on Thursday, 22nd June 2017. It makes absorbing viewing for anybody, with about four hours to spare and an interest in novel regulation that sets the benchmark for labour hire regulation in other states and territories.

Here are a few of my impressions of what happened.

Regulating for the Mood

About twenty presenters came forward to give evidence to the Committee regarding what they hoped the Bill might achieve; what they thought it would achieve; and what they thought it would fail to achieve.

I thought the Queensland Council of Unions’ opening comment pretty much set the prevailing mood:

If this industry had been able to regulate itself, obviously this sort of legislation would not be necessary.

A hit. A very palpable hit!

Although it’s not as if the industry hasn’t asked to be given the tools that would allow it to do that in the form of a nationally applicable prescribed industry code under the Competition and Consumer Act, or well-founded requirements for an industry developed certification scheme.

The QCU advanced a fill-the-gaps view of the role of labour hire that might have been true about 40 or 50 years ago, when the supply of “temps” to fill in for temporary work absences or overloads was bread and butter business for the industry.

However, that view doesn’t provide a satisfactory foundation upon which to base this legislative scheme, because it fails to appreciate the demands for flexibility and adaptability in contemporary supply chain operations. And it ignores the need for the more sophisticated auxiliary labour arrangements that are required to support those operations.

The QCU then went on to equate most types of outsourcing and casualisation to labour hire, without much distinction as to whether the business model used was one of labour hire or something else.

But that might not have mattered a great deal, because the Bill, itself, doesn’t seem to recognise that there is a distinction, which is a pity.

In failing to make a distinction between supply and use models of workforce services, the Bill spoils its own attempt to meet either of its objectives and will leave workers exposed to exploitation by the unscrupulous labour hire provider, who reinvents itself as an unscrupulous labour workforce contractor – that is to say, the other type of gangmaster that the Bill hasn’t quite come to grips with, yet.

Support for Objects

Virtually all presenters accepted that the objects of the Bill, namely to protect workers from exploitation and to promote the integrity of the labour hire industry, were worthy of regulatory support.

Although Ai Group did make a submission that the Bill should not include the object of protecting workers from exploitation, I didn’t get the sense that Ai Group was advocating carte blanche for labour hire providers.

Rather, it seemed to me that Ai Group was taking the more sophisticated position that regulatory protection and enforcement were properly the province of the regulatory bodies at both State and Federal level that already have lead agency responsibility, and substantial power under their governing legislation, to enforce compliance and to prosecute non-compliance.

The Ai Group objection, as I understood it, was that the Bill merely added additional layers of regulation and punitive measures that were not justified and that would disturb the complex balance of rights and responsibilities that existing regulation already created.

I sensed that Ai Group was contending that the purpose of protecting workers from exploitation, under this legislative proposal, would have been better served by concentrating efforts on promoting the integrity of the industry. That is to say, by supporting positive measures to promote the industry.

That view was supported by other presenters, who felt that the chief executive’s enforcement powers were limited to checking-up to make sure that license holders were complying with legislation that was the responsibility of other bodies; and that it amounted to little more than vicarious activity conducted on behalf of regulators, who had the primary responsibilities – if not to actual interference in other regulators’ territory.

Nevertheless, the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland came out strongly in support of the Bill. Though we later heard from the Queensland Law Society that the ADCQ was already sending anything that looked “industrial” to the Fair Work Commission or the QIRC; and that the QLS thought that was the proper approach.

The point about how the Bill should be targeted was made in a slightly different manner, but convincingly, by the RCSA representatives, who contended that regulatory effort and resources would be dissipated to the point of uselessness under a universal scheme and would be far better directed towards improving standards of business conduct and industry performance in sectors, where it was needed most.

Other Presenter Highlights [with observations]

The following are a few of what, for me, were highlights of the presentations made to the Committee.

Unions Team (QCU, NUW, AMWU & United Voice)

Unions will likely intervene in licence applications if they know applicants aren’t complying with their obligations and the chief executive would be assisted by having information that the unions could supply.

The unions could not imagine how a licence scheme could operate on a limited sector basis.

[ACW: Although quite clearly it does under the UK Gangmasters Licensing Scheme.]

The FWO doesn’t have the resources to enforce its legislation.

ADCQ

A broad-based scheme rather than a limited sector scheme is preferred.

An amnesty arrangement may be needed to encourage vulnerable workers to come forward and leave exploitative arrangements without fear of prosecution.

Ai Group

If the Committee wants to know why exploitation has continued in spite of existing regulatory measures, it should ask the relevant regulators … and their political masters.

The wide meaning given by the Bill to labour hire services provider will have the consequence that small business plumbers, who provide back up support for each other will need to have labour hire licences.

[ACW: A good point! The same could be said for doctors and medical staff who provide roster cover for each other. Hardly seems to warrant licensing. Hope someone will remember to specifically exclude them in the regulations. It’s going to be a long list!]

Unions, having an active interest, will tie up licence applicants in review proceedings.

Group Training Organisations that are already regulated under the Further Education and Training Act 2014 should be exempted from the requirements to hold licences.

[ACW: This seems to be a good point. GTOs and PEOs under the Act already have employer responsibilities and are well regulated. Because they have an obligation to pay their trainees/apprentices (within the meaning of cl. 8 of the Bill), they are brought within its coverage.

The training organisations that need to be regulated are the ones that aren’t regulated under the Act and don’t have those obligations; and which are sometimes found aligning themselves with gangmaster businesses. These are the type of training organisations that are often at the centre of jobs scams which the ACCC prosecutes. But, unfortunately they’re not caught by the Bill and the Bill does nothing to protect workers from exploitation at their hands.]

AMMA

A true calculation of the regulatory burden of reporting needs to take account of the fact that workers may have been engaged in multiple short-term projects within a single reporting period.

There is a difference between recording the information and making it publicly available through reports. Some of the information will be sensitive personal information.

RCSA

The meaning given by the Bill to labour hire services provider is too broad and will catch businesses that should not be caught.

It will also result in many exploitative direct-hire arrangements, such as were identified in the 7-Eleven investigation, not being caught by the Bill.

The Bill will fail to achieve its objectives, unless its coverage is targeted to the sectors most at risk.

The proposed $2 million that will be spent annually on maintaining the scheme would only be a drop in the ocean under a universal coverage scheme.

The Bill doesn’t fix a window of time for interventions. Under clause 94(2)(a)(ii), interventions can be made within 28 days of the intervenor becoming aware of the decision – which could be any time at all.

[ACW: The position might not be quite so dire as that. Cl. 94(2)(a)(ii) applies to a cl. 93(1) applicant – i.e. a person to whom an information notice is required to be given and who will most usually be the applicant. The “open” time frame only applies if the applicant has not been given the information notice. A third-party intervenor, such as a union or welfare organisation, would be a cl. 93(2) applicant and therefore caught by the 28-day period that runs from the day when the decision is published in the Register. See cl. 94(2)(b)].

Users of labour hire services need to be engaged in the process, though the Bill does not give guidance about that.

Investment in enhancing industry performance – e.g. through schemes such as the certification scheme proposed by RCSA – will be more effective in improving standards, providing assurance and represent a better investment in combatting exploitation and promoting the integrity of the industry.

HIA

Unlike professional business licensing schemes, the Bill proposes no competency standards. All the proposed scheme does is duplicate existing compliance obligations under the overlay of licensing regulation.

Information placed on the public register may be appropriated for industrial purposes such as union recruitment programmes.

 [ACW: There is perhaps a greater risk of information in the reports being used for that purpose, though one would want to know what additional matters are likely to be prescribed by regulation for inclusion on the public register.]

Business competitors may become third party intervenors in licence applications.

[ACW: That seems unlikely in light of cl 94(3), which excludes other licence holders from intervening. However, there seems to be nothing to stop a licence holder separately incorporating a “social conscience” that would not need to have a licence and would therefore be able to intervene. It also seems possible that businesses that might not require licenses under the current scheme – e.g. harvest contractors who do not supply workers; but who assemble workforces to undertake short term projects and therefore provide a (substitutable) service in competition with labour hire providers – could intervene to protect their own patch. Note that under the GLA scheme, these types of harvest contractors ARE included in the licensing scheme coverage.]

Growcom

The meaning given by the Bill to labour hire services provider is too broad and will catch businesses that should not be caught – e.g. a farmer who loans a worker to his mate, Farmer Fred down the road.

[ACW: This could even apply (technically) to a farmer who provides workers to fight a bush-fire on a neighbouring property. Remember that, under cl 7(1), the farmer doesn’t have to be in the business of providing workers – it’s enough if, in the course of conducting his own business (running and protecting his farm), he supplies his worker to another person.  I doubt that regulations are ever going to be able to carve out all the exceptions that would be required under the flawed definition of labour hire services provider that presently appears in the Bill].

Harvest contracting appears not to be caught. Growcom pleaded with the Committee to make sure the definitions are clear because these alternative business models will become more common if they are not captured by the scheme.

Clause 93, which permits intervention by interested parties, is susceptible to the making of vexatious complaints.

Salvation Army & Freedom Partnership

Protection against exploitation needs to be extended to catch the exploitative practices of workforce logistics providers such as accommodation and transport providers.

The Salvation Army would use the information contained in cl. 31 reports to provide pastoral care and outreach to workers.

[ACW: Whilst there are few, who would dispute the value of the work done by the Salvation Army and its Freedom Partnership connexions, other observers, of a secularist persuasion, may entertain doubts and fairly ask, “Who else might want to make use of this information; and for what purposes?”]

Some labour hire providers have claimed to be a church in order to lure workers into exploitative arrangements.

[ACW: This is a grim reminder of the practices of the Nineteenth Century “Sugar Slave” recruiters who, by pretending to be missionaries, reportedly lured Polynesian workers on board their vessels to sing hymns; locked them in the hold and took them off to Queensland to work as indentured labourers. There is much ugly history that Queensland is perhaps still trying to live down. 

These are stories that should not be forgotten and there is a need to take account of them in order to better appreciate the policy behind the Bill. It is vital that the Parliament gets this legislation right.]

All parties need especially to be aware of the hardship and vulnerability to exploitation to which workers are exposed during “down time” due to wet weather or other work interruptions, when workers continue to incur high accommodation expenses that they are then unable to pay. The risk of slipping into debt bondage in such circumstances is high.

Queensland Law Society

QLS cautions against casting the regulatory net too widely and too heavily.

The Committee is correct to note that exceptions could easily be created by regulation made under clause 7(4). But we will need to see the regulations.

[ACW: That is true as a matter of legislative mechanics; but the real problem is that no one will think of all the situations that require regulatory exclusion. Who would have thought about the chicken sexers (excluded under GLA exclusion regulations); or Growcom’s Farmer Fred Down-the-Road; or the bushfire example, the plumbers, or the doctors providing roster cover for each other?]

Any information published about workers’ locations should be limited to broad geographical (regional) reporting using ABS regions, rather than reporting towns or addresses. Privacy needs to be taken into account to a greater extent than is presently indicated by the Bill.

QCAT is not well-resourced to deal with industrial questions that might arise in respect of licence applications, conditions, or interested-party interventions.

The Bill should be as comprehensive as possible in order to avoid everything being left to regulations, or the exercise of administrative discretions.

The Bill should include detailed criteria to guide the exercise of the chief executive’s discretions.

[ACW: At the moment, the Bill only says that conditions imposed by the chief executive are not to be inconsistent with the Bill. That falls a long way short of the requirements of the Legislative Standards Act 1992, which requires that legislation should make rights and liberties, or obligations, dependent on administrative power only if the power is sufficiently defined and subject to appropriate review. On this point, Queensland’s Legislation Handbook explains at para 7.2.1:

 “Depending on the seriousness of a decision made in the exercise of administrative power and the consequences that follow, it is generally inappropriate to provide for administrative decision-making in a Bill without stating criteria for making the decision …”

I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the consequences of imposing licence conditions, or failing to comply with them, are not serious matters. So, where are the criteria?)

If the regulations deal with substantive issues, then there must be ample opportunity for public response and time to advise clients affected by the new laws before they take effect.

The Bill might also make provision for sunset review.

Report Card

In summary, whilst there was much fruitful discussion, there is still much work yet to be done.

Perhaps the greatest weakness in the legislative proposal is the fact that the Bill is not yet supported by the level of detail that is needed to guide the exercise of discretion, or to understand the true scope of the Bills’ coverage, or to establish standards and conditions for the holding of licenses.

Anyone who is interested in a more technical review of the issues raised at the public hearing, might like to read my companion post: Queensland’s Labour Hire Licensing Bill: Issues arising from the FAC Public Hearing 24/6/2017 (forthcoming).

It will remain the case that, until we see the regulations and perhaps until we know what some intervenor says are the conditions that should be imposed upon a license holder, we just will not know how the terrain of the labour hire industry may be likely to change under the influence of this proposed legislation.

Andrew C. Wood, Hon FRCSA (Life)

Queensland’s Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017: What about the conditions?

Politician 2

Anyone interested in how Queensland’s new Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 will affect the labour hire industry, would do well, right now, to call for some frank and open discussion about the conditions, which the Queensland government intends to impose on license holders. That’s because the only thing standing in the way of a radical overhaul of the labour hire industry is the chief executive’s discretion concerning what those conditions will be and how they will be imposed.[1]  And we have not yet heard much about it.

Unlike some other jurisdictions, where licensing conditions are established by legislative instrument,[2] Queensland intends to establish conditions merely by exercise of administrative discretion.

There is little guidance in the Bill about what the conditions might be, other than that they must not be inconsistent with the broad objects of the Act, which are to protect workers from exploitation and to promote the integrity of the labour hire industry. So pretty much anything that can satisfy those broad criteria is up for discussion.

The width of the license conditions is hinted at by provisions, which say that they can include, but are not limited to, the imposition of bonds and requirements for compulsory insurance.[3]

Very little more is said about the conditions in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill; and nothing of note was said by the honourable Minister, when introducing the Bill to Parliament.

The ability of strangers, claiming an interest in protecting workers from exploitation or promoting the integrity of the labour hire industry, to intervene if they are dissatisfied with the grant of a license (or the sufficiency of any conditions attaching to it) gives further grounds for concern, as it exposes the licensing and appeals processes to the contested agendas of industrial parties and social reformers.

Queensland’s workers and businesses, and those dealing with them, are entitled to know what they can expect; and at the moment, nobody is saying much.

So, here’s a short list of some conditions that could conceivably be imposed under this scheme; and about which some pertinent questions should perhaps be asked:

  • restrictions on providing workers during industrial disputes[4]
  • abolition of temp-to-perm/ contractor-to-perm and agency switching fees[5]
  • restrictions on restraints of trade that protect agencies’ worker connections and client connections[6]
  • restrictions on the use of payroll companies to pay workers’ remuneration[7]
  • prohibitions on charging fees for services provided to workers equivalent to those contained in the employment premiums provisions of Queensland’s Industrial Relations Act and its Private Employment Agents (Code of Conduct) Regulation 2015[8]
  • restrictions on advertising – including requirements for local advertising[9]
  • restrictions on the supply and acquisition of labour hire services that might presently fall outside the scope of matters that can be included in modern awards and enterprise agreements.[10]

There are, of course, many other conditions that could be imposed under the broad discretion that is to be given to the Chief Executive. Casual conversion requirements and provisions of the type contended for in the Secure Employment Test Case (2006) readily come to mind.

The real concern in all of this, is that the conditions may be used as means to circumvent the delicate, though sometimes precarious, balance which the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) establishes about what matters pertain to employment and are matters in respect of which industrial parties may engage in lawful industrial action.

Neither is it entirely clear that the mechanisms set out in section 26 of the Fair Work Act, or in section 109 the Constitution, would operate to strike down conditions of the type mentioned in the list on the grounds of inconsistency, where the conditions are imposed by administrative action on a case by case basis only. That, however, is a question for another time.

For the moment, it’s enough to note that the Bill leaves much still to be explained. And it is time that proponents of the Bill did so – in my opinion.

Andrew C. Wood

 

[1] Clause 29(1) of the Bill gives the chief executive a discretion to impose, vary or revoke conditions on a licence for the reasons, and in the circumstances, the chief executive considers appropriate.

[2] See e.g. the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 (UK) on which some attempt has been made to model the Queensland Bill; and the Gangmasters (Licensing Conditions) Rules 2009 (UK) (“G(LC) Rules”) for which there is no equivalent in Queensland and for which the chief executive’s discretion is to substitute.

[3] See clause 29 (2) of the Bill.

[4] See cdtn 10 of the G(LC) Rules.

[5] See cdtn 12 of the G(LC) Rules.

[6] See cdtn 9 of the G(LC) Rules.

[7] See cdtn 11 of the G(LC) Rules.

[8] See cdtn 7 of the G(LC) Rules.

[9] See Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 (UK) reg. 27A.

[10] The explanatory memorandum to the Fair Work Act 2009 made it clear that terms containing a general prohibition on engagement of contractors, labour hire personnel or casuals were not intended to be regarded as “permitted matters”. See also R v Commonwealth Industrial Court; ex parte Cocks (1968) 121 CLR 313 regarding restrictions or qualifications on employer’s right to use independent contractors or labour hire workers.

Queensland’s Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017: Accommodating the Ridiculous?

I had to have a chuckle, when I read the reporting requirements of cl 31 (2) (i) and (j) of Queensland’s new Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017. Those paragraphs require labour hire services providers to give some pretty detailed and possibly intrusive information about their workers’ accommodation and other mundane arrangements.

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