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!

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Andrew C. Wood

ACCC taking action to enforce new unfair business terms laws

locked-into-contractRecruiters, 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.

Two proceedings have now been commenced in the Federal Court, where the ACCC is seeking declarations that some standard terms are unfair and void, together with injunctions, publication orders, compliance program orders and costs.

One proceeding is against Servcorp, a large provider of serviced office facilities; the other is against JJ Richards & Sons Pty Ltd, a large privately owned waste management company.

Amongst the business terms coming under attack are:

  • terms binding customers to subsequent contracts;
  • terms permitting unilateral increase in prices;
  • indemnity or hold harmless terms;
  • exclusivity terms; and
  • terms permitting one party to unilaterally determine whether the contract has been breached.

Frequently, terms such as these reflect an approach to contract drafting that was considered “smart practice” in the past. But that approach will need to change under the influence of consumer law and demands for more sophisticated relational contracts.

It will be interesting to see how the proceedings unfold and what future actions the ACCC may take, having indicated, last year, that the contracting sector is one of the sectors that it is targeting.

 

 

 

Andrew C. Wood

12 month non-solicitation clause held enforceable against ICT on-hire employee: First lessons.

silhouette-of-scaleThe decision of the NSW Supreme Court in Thinkstorm Pty Ltd v Farah [2017] NSWSC 11 (per Lindsay, J) which was handed down on 30th January 2017, is instructive for what it tells us about the enforceability of non-solicitation clauses in professional on-hire employee contracts.

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Who’s in charge? Independent contractors and the unfair terms in small business contracts reforms.

On 12 November 2016, what has been described as “the single biggest change in the way Australian enterprises do business for decades.”[1] took place.

Judging from the lack of registrations at one industry association workshop[2], there may be reason to think that it might have passed in some sectors of the recruitment and contracting industry without too much notice[3]. That is a pity because, amongst the seven industry sectors that the ACCC has been viewing closely as it prepares to administer the reforms, is the independent contracting sector.

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The Unfair Contracts Legislation: Threat, Challenge, or Opportunity?

Now that we have passed 12 November 2016, when the unfair terms in standard form small business contracts reforms commenced, recruitment, on-hire and contracting agencies might consider how they can adjust to the changes; and might ask themselves whether the changes present a threat, a challenge, or an opportunity. They might be all those things. And, for a few, they might also be an invitation to do something amazing.

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Checking for Unfair Terms in Standard Form Small Business Contracts.

With less than eight weeks to go before the unfair terms in standard form small business contracts changes to the Australian Consumer Law take effect, the Recruiters Casebook outlines steps that recruitment, contracting and on-hire agencies might take to avoid being caught out after the commencement date on 12 November 2016.

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Unfair terms in standard form small business contracts in the independent contracting sector – First questions.

With only eight weeks to go until the unfair terms in standard form small business contracts reforms take effect on 12 November 2016, and with the ACCC having indicated that the independent contracting sector is clearly in its sights[1], I am hoping that someone is looking at how this is going to play out for independent contractors and their principals in the recruitment, on-hire, and contracting industries. 

I might be about to ask more questions than I can answer; but let me ask them anyway and see if they bring a few issues into sharper focus.

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