Independent Contracting: Back in the Spotlight

Photo by tyler hendy on Pexels.com two spotlights.

Labour hire providers should note that there are currently two appeals before the High Court, which challenge accepted approaches to the characterisation of independent contractors. The outcomes could upset independent contracting arrangements that are overly dependent on the technicalities and “deep entrenchment” of the Odco system and may lead staffing agencies to a fresh need to review their use of independent contractors.

CFMMEU v Personnel Contracting[1]

Trial

A young UK backpacker, who “had no aspect of a business or intended business, no expressed desire to act in any capacity other than as a builder’s labourer, and merely sought remuneration for the deployment of his labour on a building site supervised, directed and controlled by the builder”[2] was characterised, at first instance,[3] as an independent contractor on an application of the multi-factor test and Odco principles.

Appeal

The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia upheld the finding despite the absence of any business clearly having been carried on by the worker.[4] However, in doing so, the Chief Justice expressed a preference for a different outcome though feeling constrained by intermediate appellate decisions which had previously supported Odco contracting arrangements.[5]

Special Leave

The High Court granted special leave to appeal in February this year. The Appellant’s submissions were filed last Friday (16 April 2021).

At issue is a question of whether the multi-factor test was correctly applied in a labour-hire context. There is a related question about the need for workers to be carrying on their own independent businesses in order to be independent contractors.

ZG Operations Australia Pty Ltd v Jamsek & Ors[6]

Trial

The case concerned the various entitlements of truck drivers, who derived their sole income by working for same business for nearly 40 years – and the corresponding obligations of the company for which they worked. It’s not a labour hire case, but it raises similar characterisation questions about the role of the business test in determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors.

The drivers were required to purchase a truck to retain work and contracted with the company through their family partnerships, which owned the trucks.  The drivers were required to be available to work during set hours. The company logo was displayed on drivers’ trucks and company branding appeared on the drivers’ clothing. Although the drivers theoretically may have had the ability of sell their goodwill, they had no practical capacity to generate any goodwill of their own.

On an application of the multi-factor test the drivers were held to be independent contractors.[7] A deciding factor was that the workers were held to be running businesses of their own.[8]

Appeal

The Full Federal Court reversed the decision on appeal.[9]  Wigney J’s judgment highlights the problems facing those who rely too much on cleverly crafted documents and overly sophisticated or artificial arrangements.

To my mind, the primary judge concluded as he did by giving primacy and excessive weight to contractual labels and theoretical possibilities and insufficient weight to the reality and totality of the working relationship between the parties, as demonstrated by the way they actually conducted themselves over many years.”[10]

Although the drivers’ arrangements displayed some of the trappings of carrying on their own businesses, that was not sufficient to displace the reality, observed after consideration of the whole work relationship, that they were employees.[11]

Special Leave

The case is to be heard together with CFMMEU v Personnel Contracting. The Appellant’s submissions were filed last Friday (16 April 2021). At issue are questions about whether the drivers were “employees” for purposes of Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 (Cth) and “workers” for purpose of Long Service Leave Act 1955 (NSW).

What next?

Respondents’ submissions in both cases are due to be filed in May, and any replies in early June. After that, the matters will be listed for hearing.

In light of these developments, it might be prudent for staffing agencies to review their independent contracting arrangements, and make contingency plans for managing any that could unravel should the High Court hand down a decision that indicates that they may no longer be sustainable.

Andrew C. Wood


[1] Construction, Forestry, Maritime and Energy Union & Anor v Personnel Contracting Pty Ltd [2021] HCATrans 30 (12 February 2021).

[2] As described by Alsopp CJ on appeal. see fn.5 below.

[3] Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union v Personnel Contracting Pty Ltd [2019] FCA 1806 at paras [171] to [181].

[4] Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union v Personnel Contracting Pty Ltd [2020] FCAFC 122

[5] At para [31].

[6] ZG Operations Australia Pty Ltd & Anor v Jamsek & Ors [2021] HCATrans 27 (12 February 2021).

[7] Whitby v ZG Operations Australia Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 1934.

[8] At para [213].

[9] Jamsek v ZG Operations Australia Pty Ltd [2020] FCAFC 119.

[10] At para [19].

[11] At para [248].

“Employer-of-Record” vs “True Employer”

The recent NSW Supreme Court decision in Branded Media Holdings[1] holds some important lessons for recruiters and others who are considering the use of outsourced employer-of-record (EoR) services – especially if they imagine that using EoR services will protect them, in all cases, from liability as the “true employer”.  That’s because statutory and common law liabilities generally rest with the true employer, irrespective of where formal documents might be trying to direct them

In Branded Media, liquidators and deed administrators of two related companies sought directions from the court as to the identity of the employer of specified employees within the Branded Media Group.

The companies were Branded Media Holdings Pty Ltd (in liq) (Holdings) and Brand New Media Pty Ltd (subject to a deed of arrangement) (BNM). The liquidators and deed administrators’ position was that Holdings was the employer.

The Commonwealth intervened to contend that BNM was the employer. The Commonwealth had advanced more than $1 million in respect of the employees’ unpaid entitlements under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012  and stood to recover a substantially higher amount if BNM was held to be the true employer.

The contest was clouded by uncertainty because, whilst the formal documents recorded Holdings as the employer, day-to-day management of the work relationship was conducted by BNM.

The court held that the true employer was BNM. Some telling factors included:

  • Holdings did not conduct any business by which it generated income;
  • Holdings was not the recipient of the services of the employees;
  • the employees provided their services to BNM;
  • Holdings was wholly dependent upon BNM to meet its financial obligations;
  • Holdings did not operate any bank accounts;
  • Holdings did not in fact pay the employees;
  • BNM in fact paid the salaries and wages of the employees;
  • BNM had its logo on some employment forms;
  • business cards used by the employees bore the logo of BNM;
  • the sign-off section of emails sent by the employees referenced BNM;
  • the website referencing the Employees referenced BNM.

You might already be getting a sense of how some of those factors might play out in a case where a staffing agency supplies workers to one of its clients, managing their shifts, providing them with agency uniforms, and binding them to agency policies; but arranging for those workers to be employed “on-the-record” by an outsourced payroll company.  

The Branded Media case is important because the Court clarified the principles that are used to determine which of the two companies was the actual employer. In doing so, it made clear that:

The Court must look to the “substance and reality” in identifying the true employer in these circumstances and would look beyond contractual documentation and to the reality of the manner in which the parties conducted themselves in order to do so.[1]

[The Court may also] have regard to whether the suggested arrangement had an “intelligible business objective” which is “consistent with the financial and administrative organisation of the business”.[2]

The case is also helpful to the extent to which it clarifies that employment-of-record is not a distinct category of employment, but nothing more than an expression to describe an arrangement by which certain of the true employer’s statutory or contractual responsibilities are performed by someone else.

Such an arrangement will not necessarily relieve the true employer of those responsibilities if the EoR fails in performance. And some liabilities, such as the employer’s vicarious liability at common law, may continue to rest with the true employer to the extent to which they derive from the true employer’s notional control of its employees.

The need to identify the true employer will also arise in the context of labour hire licensing prosecutions to the extent to which it may be necessary to determine whether workers of an unlicensed provider who has sought to outsource the obligation to pay its workers to an EoR payroll company may be left with the residue of the statutory obligation to pay sufficient to necessitate the holding of a licence -despite having passed to the EoR a contractual obligation to pay the workers.

Andrew C. Wood


[1] In the matter of Branded Media Holdings Pty Limited (in liquidation); In the matter of Brand New Media Pty Limited (subject to a Deed of Company Arrangement) [2020] NSWSC 557 at [14] adopting Counsel’s submission to that effect.

[2] At [26], developing a further dimension to the test which may be effective to challenge sham arrangements directed at avoidance.

“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?

This webinar has now been archived. Please contact me if you would like a link.

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?

This webinar has now been archived. Please contact me if you would like a link.

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?

This webinar has now been archived. Please contact me if you would like a link.

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?

This webinar has now been archived. Please contact me if you would like a link.

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.

This webinar has now been archived. Please contact me if you would like a link.

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”?

View the recorded 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?

View the recorded 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

Let’s Shed Light on Recruitment Fees!

 

Slide1Temp-to-Perm Fees, Agency-Switching Fees, Introduction Fees and Release Fees.

I hope you’ll join me when we shed light on the topic of Recruitment Fees in two separate webinars planned for Thursday 22nd November and Thursday 29th November at 10:30 am AEDT.

In our first webinar, you’ll learn how to make binding and enforceable recruitment fee agreements.

In our second webinar, you’ll learn how to manage fee recruitment disputes ethically and professionally.

You can find out more about the webinars in my Recruiters’ Casebook blog here.

 

Andrew C. Wood, Hon FRCSA (Life)

Two Webinars about Recruitment Fees

I’m looking forward to presenting two webinars on recruitment fee topics later this month. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a topic that I’m constantly asked about and one that needs to be mastered in the interests of promoting and maintaining professional standards in the recruitment and staffing industry.

Slide1Webinar #1: Make Binding & Effective Agreements (22nd Nov. 2019 )

In the first session, we will discuss how to make binding and effective recruitment fee agreements that will reduce the cost of disputes and help get your fees paid.

You’ll learn about:

  • basics of contract
  • the battle of forms – Does the client’s purchase order trump your standard terms?
  • traps when using standard form terms of business
  • State and Territory employment agent regulation
  • what happens if your terms of business are not signed?
  • terms of business that need special treatment.

 

RF2Webinar #2: Handle Disputes Ethically & Professionally (29th Nov. 2019)

In the second session, you will learn how to handle recruitment fee disputes professionally and ethically to preserve goodwill, reputation, and to improve payment outcomes.

You’ll learn about:

  • common causes of recruitment fee disputes
  • common defences to recruitment fee claims
  • traps to avoid when involved in disputes
  • RCSA Code of Conduct and Grievance Intervention Guidelines
  • pathways to resolution
  • the benefit of early intervention.

 

I hope you’ll join me. And if you have questions about the topic, please feel free to send them to me ahead of the event.

 

Andrew C. Wood, Hon FRCSA (Life)

 

 

 

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

Will your outsourced payroll arrangements alter your requirements to have a labour hire license? Probably not.

As attempts by Australia’s labor states to create a multi-jurisdiction, labour hire licensing scheme gain critical mass, it is becoming more important, and perhaps a little easier, to make comparisons and ask questions at a practical level rather than merely at a policy or ideological level.

One such question, which seems to be causing concern amongst industry participants, relates to the involvement of payroll providers in labour hire arrangements. Kudos, therefore, to the industry participants, who have appreciated the detail and complexity of the legislation well enough to formulate the following question:

Will our outsourced payroll arrangements alter our requirements to have a labour hire license?

The answer is, “Probably not”.

Let’s say you provide labour hire services – i.e. you engage a worker and supply that worker to another person (a host) to do work.

Your engagement of that worker creates an obligation – and it’s your obligation – to pay your worker for her or his work. You can’t escape that obligation by entering into a pay-when-paid-by-client arrangement. And, importantly, you can’t escape it by outsourcing your payroll function to a third-party payroll provider. It’s still your source obligation; and it is sourced in the work/wage or work/remuneration bargain that you made with your worker.

Neither, in most cases, can you transfer your worker to the payroll company. As the High Court has reminded us:

No worker is an asset in the employer’s balance sheet to be bought or sold.

So, whilst ever you continue to engage the worker, you have a payment obligation – even if a payroll company is going to perform it for you.

Now, I’ve heard it suggested from time to time, that terms and conditions of appointment of a payroll provider often attempt to shift responsibility for engaging the worker onto the payroll provider. They might say something like:

 You, the payroll provider, agree that you employ the worker and are responsible for all employer obligations.

In my opinion, you will have to be especially careful if your terms of business say anything like that – and that’s so regardless of whether you are the payroll provider or the labour hire provider.

The work/wage or work/remuneration bargain is made between the engager and the worker. It’s not something that you can transfer on paper – even if you have a paper consent from the worker and payroll provider – because the paper transfer and consent might not reflect the reality of the situation if it’s actually you, who continue to supply the worker to your client and are getting paid for it.

Even though there may be some very limited circumstances in which you could successfully transfer a worker’s engagement to a payroll company, it may still be important for you to ensure that you have a licence.

Remember, you can’t transfer a worker whom you haven’t first engaged. How did the worker become engaged with you in the first place? Did you advertise, or hold out that you were willing to provide labour hire services? Under all three state schemes, you must not advertise or hold yourself out as willing to provide labour hire services unless you have a licence that is in force.

If your attempt to appoint a payroll provider is designed to circumvent or avoid an obligation imposed upon you by the labour hire licensing legislation, you may also have committed an avoidance offence. Your client, and indeed your payroll provider, may be obligated to report the attempt as an avoidance arrangement under the reporting provisions of the legislation.

If you DO successfully transfer the worker to the payroll company, remember:

  • It’s probably not just the payroll function that you have transferred – it’s likely to be pretty much the whole show; and it might be difficult to know what your client will be paying you for.

Ask yourself: Are you still providing what you agreed with your client you would provide? If you’re no longer providing what you agreed with your client to provide, you might find that your agreement with your client (including its terms and conditions) will be swept aside by a court, as happened in Fair Work Ombudsman v Quest South Perth Holdings Pty Ltd.[i]

  • Perhaps you’re being paid a type of pay-as-you-go placement fee and you’re really acting in the role of a private employment agent (PEA) providing placement services.

Ask yourself: Do your terms of business support that characterization of your arrangement; and do they accurately reflect the arrangement?

  • Even if that is the case, you may still require a labour hire license if, as a PEA, you are doing anything more than merely providing a recruitment or placement service.

For example: If you are arranging safety inductions, PPE,  accommodation,  transport, message handling to coordinate worker attendance at the worksite etc, you will not have the benefit of the private employment agent exception under the Queensland and South Australian legislation; and you may be caught by the extended coverage provisions in the Victorian legislation that relate to PEA’s, who arrange accommodation; or Contractor Management Companies, who recruit and place independent contractors.

  • You may also require a PEA licence in those states and territories that still have them.

Ask yourself: Do you need and do you have a PEA licence?

  • Your arrangement is likely to convert the payroll provider into a labour hire provider if the payroll provider now has to supply the worker to the user or “host”.

Ask yourself: Does your payroll provider have a labour hire licence? If not, you may need to consider whether you have an ancillary liability arising from placing workers with unlicensed labour hire providers. The ancillary liability penalties can be as severe as those imposed upon the principal offender.

  • You may have made a type of split placement – i.e. you have placed the worker operationally with the host, but administratively with the payroll provider. In doing so, you may have implicated your client in the offence of dealing with an unlicensed labour hire provider if either you or your payroll providers are unlicensed.

If your attempt to transfer the worker to the payroll company was NOT effective, – and there may be a number of reasons why it will not be effective – then you would clearly remain the labour hire provider. You will need a licence – even though the payroll provider is paying the worker.

The interactions between payroll arrangements and the coverage and avoidance provisions of the labour hire licensing legislation are complex and are affected by nuances in definitions, exclusions and extensions. That will mean that payroll providers (and labour hire providers) will need to exercise special care to understand the effects of a transfer of payroll responsibility from a labour hire provider. They will need to be thoroughly familiar with the legislation and will need to scrutinize the terms and conditions upon which the transfer of payroll responsibility takes place.

But wait! There’s more…

So far, we’ve only been discussing the situation where a labour hire provider appoints a payroll provider. There’s also the possibility that the payroll provider might be appointed by the client (host) or even by the worker. There’s the additional possibility that the payroll provider is, in fact, the worker’s own incorporated entity. That’s a whole other story!

Teacher 3

 

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

[i] [2015] FCAFC 37 per North and Bromberg JJ at [paras 215 to 218].

This is an opinion piece intended to promote public discussion. It is not, and should not be relied on as legal advice. If you do want legal advice, please seek it from a lawyer, who is familiar your industry and with the laws that apply in the jurisdictions where you carry on business. Your industry associations or local Law Societies may be able to help you to find professional legal advisors, who can assist you.

 

“No Refund” terms & conditions result in $750,000 fine, injunctions and costs orders.

If your terms and conditions expressly or impliedly exclude refund remedies under the Australian Consumer Law, you might be in for a nasty shock.

In a recent case, the Australian Federal Court imposed, by consent, fines of $750,000, injunctions and costs orders (totaling a further $50,000) on MSY Group Pty Ltd, MSY Technology Pty Ltd and M.S.Y. Technology (NSW) Pty Ltd for publishing, including on the companies’ website, business terms and conditions that impliedly excluded remedies available under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

As a result, the Court declared that the respondents:

  • “engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive, in contravention of s 18 of the ACL;
  • “made false or misleading representations in relation to the existence, exclusion or effect of any condition, warranty, guarantee, right or remedy in contravention of s. 29(1)(m) of the ACL; and
  • ” made false or misleading representations in relation to a requirement to pay for a contractual right that is wholly or partly equivalent to any condition, warranty, guarantee, right or remedy in contravention of s 29(1)(n) of the ACL.

What is especially important about this case is that the Court held that a contravention of these ACL provisions could occur, where MSY’s terms of business and representations:

… impliedly represented to consumers that their rights were limited when that was not the case.

…were silent in response to the consumer’s reference to their specific ACL rights and impliedly represented that MSY … was not required to provide an ACL remedy to consumers.

(My underlining).

The decision creates a risk for businesses that insert additional or alternative “remedies” – such as candidate replacement “guarantees” or indemnities – into their terms of business (or who answer questions raised by consumers about their remedies for defective services) and say nothing about the availability of the ACL remedies in circumstances where the ACL remedies apply.

The ACCC has been active, recently, in challenging unfair terms and conduct that may be in breach of the ACL. If it’s been a while since you last had your terms of business reviewed, you might do well to have your lawyers review them for you against the background of recent developments in this area.

And if your customer-facing staff are not familiar with the ACL remedies, it might be worth investing in some training.

It could be a lot less expensive than the $800,000 in fines and costs ordered in this case!

Andrew C. Wood

Uber drivers confirmed as “employees” by UK Employment Appeal Tribunal.

silhouette-of-scaleOn 10th November 2017, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal delivered its judgment in Uber & Ors v Aslam & Ors [PDF].   The decision will be of interest to agencies and workers operating in the “Gig economy. Here is a brief summary.

Background

Members of the Uber Group had appealed from an earlier decision of the Employment Tribunal, which found that Uber drivers in London were “workers” within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998; and that any Uber driver who had the Uber app switched on, was within the territory in which they were authorised to work (London) and was able and willing to accept assignments was working for Uber London Ltd.

Appeal

A key ground in Uber’s appeal was that the Employment Tribunal had mischaracterised the true relationship between Uber and its drivers – that rather than being one of employment, it was one of agency in accordance with which Uber provided booking services as agent for its drivers.

Uber pointed to provisions in its suite of contracts and terms of businesss, which it contended supported its view.

Outcome

The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed and dismissed Uber’s appeal. At the time of writing it is understood that Uber intends to take a further appeal to the UK Supreme Court.

Take-away points

In the meantime, there are a few quick points that can be made about the EAT decision.

  1. It is the reality of the situation that matters. The Appeal Tribunal said:

[The Employment Tribunal] was entitled to disregard the terms in the written agreements and the labels used therein.

…the true agreement between the parties was not one in which [Uber London Ltd] acted as the drivers’ agent.

  1. Control still matters. The Appeal Tribunal said:

 The [Employment Tribunal]…was entitled to look at all factors to determine whether this was a case in which the … Uber drivers were entering into contracts with passengers as part of their own business undertakings. Seeing that they were subjected to control on the part of [Uber London Ltd] was an indication that they were not.

  1. These matters will continue to be decided on a case by case basis. The Appeal Tribunal said:

Inevitably the assessment [the ET] had carried out was fact-and context-specific.

Moving forward

It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court makes of this.

Whilst, it would seem possible, in theory, to construct an agency relationship of the type which Uber contended for in this case, one might wonder whether Uber would have done better to construct the agency and booking service between it and the riders, rather than between Uber and the drivers.

It could also be important to recognise that this might not really be a case, where the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that the written documentation doesn’t matter … it’s perhaps more a case of making sure that the written documentation gets it right – i.e. that it reflects the true relationship between the parties.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

JJ Richards & Sons Pty Ltd admits it’s time to take out the garbage.

Last month, I wrote that recruiters, who use standard form terms of business, might take note that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has started taking court action to enforce the unfair terms in standard form small business contracts provisions, which were introduced into the Australian Consumer Law in November last year.

One of the companies against which the ACCC took action was JJ Richards & Sons Pty Ltd, a large privately owned waste management company (JJR & Sons). ACCC v JJ Richards & Sons Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 1224 (13 October 2017). The case moved forward very quickly, seemingly with JJR & Sons admirable co-operation.

On 13 October, JJR & Sons admitted that each the following terms in its standard form waste management contracts caused a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and was not reasonably necessary to protect its legitimate interests.

  • Automatic renewal;
  • Unilateral price variation (after notice);
  • Agreed times (for waste collection – best endeavours but no liability);
  • No credit without notification (JJR & Sons charged customers if they attended for waste collection but were unable to gain access, etc);
  • Exclusivity (customer not to engage another waste removal firm);
  • Credit terms (entitlement to suspend services with no corresponding right to withhold payment for failure to provide services);
  • Indemnity (wide ranging hold harmless provision); and
  • Termination (clause preventing customer from terminating whilst payments outstanding).

As a result, the Federal Court of Australia held that each of the impugned terms was void and imposed orders (by consent):

  • restraining JJR & Sons from relying on the impugned terms;
  • restraining JJR & Sons from using standard form contracts containing an impugned term;
  • requiring JJR & Sons to publish corrective notices;
  • requiring JJR & Sons to provide a copy of the Court’s orders to each person who was a small business that entered into one of the impugned contracts after 12 November 2016. (There were 26,000 contracts. It will be up to JJR & Sons to work out how many of them were with customers, who employed fewer than 20 persons – i.e. were “small businesses”!); and
  • requiring JJR & Sons to establish an Australian Consumer Law compliance program to be undertaken by each employee or other person involved in its business. who deals with Australian customers in order to minimise the risk of future reliance on unfair terms.

Many recruitment, contracting and staffing services providers might be aware of similar terms to those that were impugned in this case. Hopefully, they won’t be in their own terms of business because they will have taken the opportunity over the last twelve months to have them reviewed. If they haven’t, then perhaps … it’s time to take out the garbage!

Publication1

 

 

 

Andrew C. Wood