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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Defining the Undefinable. Pursuing the illusive definitions of “independent contracting” and “employment”.

In the lead up to the 2016 federal election, the ALP committed “to work with workplace relations experts and practitioners, employers and unions to develop a definition of independent contracting that will provide certainty to workers and employers”[1]. Despite losing the election, there are still plenty of people involved in state and industry politics, who would like to do much the same thing.

So, let me explain why I think that heroic attempts to define independent contracting and employment are futile; and quite possibly counter productive, other than to reveal what the workplace relations experts already know – namely that the terms are neither defined nor definable.

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Towards Collaborative Contracting

Tiger Smelling FlowerA contract is not a document; it is a particular type of legal relationship that we have power to create and to shape to meet our needs and objectives.

Once we grasp that truth, we might start to ask whether there is a need in some sectors – especially those involving the supply of employment services, human resources and human services – to re-appraise the type of legal relationships that we create and the way we create them; because what we put into our contracts says a lot about the relationship that we will get out of them.

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10 things you should probably know about the interaction between candidate replacement guarantees and Australian statutory consumer guarantees

guaranteed-434x640Talking about Candidate Replacement Guarantees

In Brisbane recently, I had an opportunity to speak with recruiters about their terms of business. We got to talking about candidate replacement guarantees and some of the challenges that they present.

Often recruitment agencies put forward their candidate guarantees as a competitive point of difference; but after a while they begin to look pretty much the same.

One thing intrigued me. It was the idea that a competitive point of difference could be based upon what, from a client’s perspective at least, might be viewed as a service failure.

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Recruitment, Contracting and On-Hire Agencies: Still time to weed out suspect unfair terms!

justiceTaking stock

From 12 November, 2016 the Australian Consumer Law will provide that a term of a small business contract is void if:

  • the term is unfair; and
  • the contract is a standard form contract.

The Recruiters Casebook has been exploring each of these key expressions as we prepare for the 12 November reform commencement date.

So far, we’ve looked at the definition of small business contract. A contract is a small business contract if it meets both a headcount requirement and an upfront price requirement.

We have already considered the headcount requirement (fewer than 20 employee) and the upfront price requirement (not more than $300,000 or $1 million if the duration of the contract is more than 12 months).

In our last article, we identified some recruitment, on-hire and contracting agency contracts that you might regularly use, which might be standard form contracts and took a closer look at how a court would decide if they actually are standard form contracts.

Standard form contracts that are often used by recruitment, on-hire and contacting agencies could be:

  • terms of business under which you supply services to clients;
  • terms of business under which you acquire goods, services or property interests (e.g. a commercial lease) from third parties;
  • terms of business with your independent contractors – because they’re contracts for services;
  • candidate or work seeker registration agreements – because you are supplying agency or representation services – even though the candidates or work seekers might not actually be engaged or might be between assignments.

In this article you will learn how to recognise terms of standard form contracts that might be unfair and how a court would decide if they actually were unfair. Continue reading

Recruitment, Contracting & On-Hire Agencies: Get ready. Your “standard form contracts” are whatever another person says they are!

 

From 12 November, 2016 the Australian Consumer Law will provide that a term of a small business contract is void if:

  • the term is unfair; and
  • the contract is a standard form contract.

We are exploring each of these key expressions as we prepare for the 12 November reform commencement date. So far, we have looked at the definition of small business contract. A contract is a small business contract if it meets both a headcount requirement and an upfront price requirement. We have already considered the headcount requirement and the upfront price requirement.

Let’s see if we can identify some contracts that you might regularly use, which might be standard form contracts. Then we’ll take a closer look at how a court would decide if they actually are standard form contracts.

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Reclaiming the Power of Self-Regulation in the Employment Services Industry.

Recreation  069

In the Future of Work, the employment services industry must reclaim its power of self-regulation.

It’s not about setting up sympathetic hierarchies to make soft-edged rules for the commercial comfort of “the Regulated” – as some industry detractors want us to believe.

It’s about using relational resources that can be discovered at the positive core of the industry to nurture response-ability[1]the ability to choose and to act as effective and ethical agents in multi-actor employment services transactions.

And it might require us to take a new look at what we think we know about the compliance education and compliance activity upon which we’ve been dependent to date.

How might we begin that process? 

I’ve been having an engaging conversation with Lisa O’Hara of Exclusive Migration about non-compliance, compliance education, and self-regulation. It was triggered by a provocative comment from work futurist, Jeremy Scrivens, who has been tweeting:

“The opposite of non-compliance in the future of work is not compliance; but self-regulation.”

Enticing – but not much to work with until you go deeper. So, I followed up on Jeremy Scrivens’ writings and discovered what I think is gold in his article, We Can’t Get On Together with Suspicious Minds (Love that title!). Here’s an extract…

 

We are living at a time when there has never been more compliance and regulation in organisational life and it is killing the joy, adventure, wonder and passion in our work. Everywhere I go, I hear from people that they want to spend more time on the bigger, life issue for working, which is to contribute something meaningful and less time on the ‘paperwork’ and compliance aspects of work. People are crying out to be engaged in more meaning, more contribution and less compliance.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that we don’t need checks and balances in our organisations to ensure that we are ‘safe’ and secure across the board; what I am saying is that we need to restore the balance and change the order of the questions. Rather than safety first, let’s put adventure first. Rather than compliance first, let’s look at how we can experience more contribution and meaning.

Jeremy went on to quote Dov Seidman in Forbes Magazine:

‘Most companies today are committing a fundamental mistake: they are “doing” compliance –the U.S. spent $29.8 billion on compliance activities in 2010 according to a study from AMR Research – but they are not “getting” more compliance. The frequency of compliance violations is increasing rather than diminishing and the impacts of non-compliance in a more interconnected and interdependent world are much more dramatic.

According to Jeremy, Seidman says that:

“…we need to experience a shift in organisations from one of compliance and risk to a new focus on fostering a positive culture which emphasis ethical behaviours and innovation, not compliance.”

Having spent the last 18 months or more designing a code for assisted self-regulation of the employment services industry, comments like these were always going to capture my attention.

What had also captured my attention was a submission to the Queensland Labour Hire Inquiry along lines which suggested that, in order to achieve compliance with already existing statutory regulation, perhaps all that is needed is more education about compliance.

There are several reasons why I think we’re going to need more than that.

The first is that education is not always a good predictor of compliance; and in my experience, it’s the already-mostly-compliant, who turn out for the education!

Moreover, compliance education is often too narrowly targeted at a single point of agency in the interplay of multiple actors, who are in a position to affect real outcomes – it is directed to employers, or to employment services providers, or to consumers; rather than being designed to build understanding and promote collaborative action simultaneously from multiple parties’ perspectives, stories and experience. There are, of course, exceptions … but, in the manner of exceptions, they are exceptional!

Additionally, much of the compliance education currently on offer is problem-centered. It’s scary stuff! And I’d be the first to admit that I’ve been responsible for some of it in the past. But there is a lot that we can learn from the field of appreciative inquiry, and at last I am beginning to get that:

If you focus on a problem and you design around a problem and you build actions around a problem, what you’re more likely going to get… is more of the problem.[2]

So, what do we do if we choose not to focus on the problem – bearing in mind that making  that choice might be our first step towards effective self-regulation?

I like what Peter Pula of Axiom News says about redirecting our problem-focused energy:

You feed that energy when you’re focusing on the problem. Whereas you could say, ‘What would I rather was happening?’ Paint a picture of that. ‘These are the things we would like to be experiencing. If you’d like to be experiencing these similar things, come into conversation with us and we’ll see what happens’[3].

Several things immediately fell into place.

Firstly: Industry or professional self-regulation isn’t about making do with sympathetic hierarchies & soft-edged rules; it’s about using relational resources to inform choice and to act as effective and ethical agents in multi-actor employment services transactions.

Secondly: When a profession or industry declares its commitment to high-core principles such as:

We provide an appropriate standard of service to your work seekers and customers.

We act with integrity and deal fairly.

and to outcomes such as:

We provide services that meet our customers’ proper and agreed requirements…

…it is really making statements about what it would “rather was happening”. It is redirecting what has previously been problem-focused energy towards describing and achieving positive outcomes that are consistent with values of service and fair dealing that can be discovered at its positive core.

Thirdly: When an industry or profession commits itself to collaboration with its interest-holders, it positions itself to co-produce an architecture that can supports constructive dialogue about acceptable outcomes, which make valuable contributions to the proper functioning of the labour market with which it interacts. Everyone benefits.

It is important, in seeking this new approach, that we do not reject the notion of regulatory compliance, so much as highlight the type of self-regulation that is essential to achieve the “opposite of non-compliance” – once the necessary foundational knowledge has been attained.

It therefore remains necessary to educate and equip businesses with the tools and knowledge about what the rules are and how to avoid breaking them. Beyond that, we must have the imagination to go further; because education, in the absence of an effective capacity for self-regulation, can only ever create the awareness of non-compliance. For it is the ability to self-regulate – to make the right choices – that will advance the industry beyond the state of non-compliance, which many presently assert characterizes it.

As each new story about labour market exploitation and non-compliance appears on a current affairs program (or in a public inquiry)  doing damage to the employment services industry’s social licence, the awareness of non-compliance increases and we are reminded of the need for the industry to reclaim its power of self-regulation.

Many firms already exercise that ability on a daily basis. They lead by example. They are to be commended for it. What is necessary to take the next step in reclaiming the power of self-regulation is for the industry to engage its interest holders in the co-production of statements of acceptable business outcomes that make valuable contributions to the proper functioning of the labour market.

There is now an important conversation to be had; and I hope you might join it.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

[1] Stephen Covey’s expression describing the ability to choose our response to any situation.

[2] Co Creating Generative Conversations in Community, Axiom News (2016) http://axiomnews.com/co-creating-generative-space-community  

[3] Co Creating Generative Conversations in Community, Axiom News (2016) http://axiomnews.com/co-creating-generative-space-community   

Time for a healthy change in contingent workforce procurement and supply.

A healthy change seems to be taking place in the way contingent workforce procurement and supply is being imagined, designed and planned. Recruitment and procurement professionals are behind it; and it is possible to see signs of a strongly emerging view that the process will become more collaborative – one in which key stakeholders work together to co-produce more efficient, equitable, effective, economic, and elegant outcomes. Continue reading

Tackling Labour Market Exploitation: Are industry and regulatory codes of conduct sufficient?

Of course not! It would be naive as to suggest that they are. Nevertheless, they are vital to the success of a comprehensive strategy in tackling labour market exploitation. Three characteristics of labour market exploitation suggest reasons why that is so. Continue reading