The Labour Hire Licensing Act 2020 (ACT) – More variations on a theme

The Australian Capital Territory has made good its intention to enact labour hire licensing legislation. This is the fourth Australian jurisdiction to enact a licensing scheme – if you count South Australia, which has just started to wind the coverage of its scheme back to imit its application tohigh-risk sectors.

So, what’s the deal in the ACT? You can spend hours on this stuff and still not know what it all means until the courts start to interpret it. But here are a few features you might want to note that give the ACT scheme its own unique character.

Status

Early days. We still need to see the regulations and application forms, which will add layers of detail.

Commencement

Probably 1 January 2021, with a 6-month transition period.

Objects

  • Protect workers from exploitation by providers of labour hire services; and
  • Ensure labour hire service providers meet their workplace obligations and responsibilities to the workers they supply; and
  • Promote the integrity of the labour hire services industry; and
  • Promote responsible practices in the labour hire services industry.

Coverage

You’re a labour hire provider if, in the course of carrying on a business, you supply to another person (the hirer) a worker to do work.

The definition is closer to the very wide Queensland model. There’s no attempt to give meaning to what “supply” means and no use of the complex integration test (to perform work in and as part of the hirer’s business or undertaking) adopted in South Australia and Victoria.

Neither is there any attempt to exclude licensed private employment (placement) agencies (PEAs) as there is in Queensland and South Australia, even though the ACT has a separate PEA licensing scheme.

This will mean that the requirement to hold a licence will often come down to whether the person supplied to do the work is a worker within the meaning of the Act. We’ll look at that in a moment.

Unlike Victoria, there’s no explicit extension of the scheme to PEAs who provide accommodation, or to Contractor Management Services providers. Although, that might be unnecessary in view of the width of the coverage.

The “Regardlesses”

Not an Indie band – but a set of provisions that say you’re a labour hire provider no matter what (regardless).  So, you would need a licence regardless of whether:

  • the worker is employed by you; or
  • there is a contract for the worker to do the work; or
  • the worker is supplied by you directly or indirectly; or
  • the work completed by the worker is under the control of you or the hirer.

All four State and Territory licensing schemes use some version of the regardlesses. They’re designed to extend coverage to tiered supply and contracting chains. They are capable of producing a lot of unintended consequences. You need to do a few worked examples to see what they lead to. But, basically, you can be a labour hire provider even though you’re not engaging the worker. That might cause a few headaches for payroll companies.

Regulations can exempt a stated person from coverage meaning that they would not have to have a licence. That’s not as good as it looks. It relates to “stated persons” rather than to classes of persons and it falls well short of anything you might have heard to the contrary about the Minister or the Commissioner having a power to declare exemptions.

Who is a “worker”?

Only an individual can be a worker. An individual is a worker for a provider if the individual enters into an arrangement with the provider under which—

  • the provider may supply, to another person, the individual to do work; and
  • the provider is obliged to pay the worker for the work—
    • in whole or part; or
    • directly or indirectly.

This definition is also pretty standard across the four licensing schemes. But it’s riddled with problems because there’s no clarity about the nature of the “obligation”. It’s easy enough if the obligation arises directly from a work/wages bargain.

But things get complicated if the obligation arises from an escrow obligation such as you might see with some of the freelancing platforms, or if the worker is not paid for the work but receives distributions from a trust or is remunerated in some other manner.

Also, keep in mind that a person can be your worker, even though you’ve not engaged them. Again, this could cause some headaches for payroll companies and contractor management services providers.

The Minister can declare that a person is or is not a worker. This is a bit easier than the power to exempt a provider by regulation. Still, it’s not an easy path and I doubt that we’ll see anything like the liberal application of the similar power to exempt by gazettal, which we saw in South Australia before the Act there was changed.

The Offences

  • Supplying a worker without having a labour hire licence – huge fine 3,000 penalty units for a corporation; 800 penalty units for an individual
  • False representation that a licence is held – 200 penalty units
  • Breach of licence condition – 300 penalty units
  • Entering into an arrangement to acquire services from an unlicensed provider – huge fine 3,000 penalty units for a corporation; 800 for an individual

Ignorance might actually be an excuse in the ACT – Consider “Kevin”.

If you’re a hirer (host) you won’t commit the offence of entering into an arrangement with an unlicensed provider if you had a reasonable excuse. Consider this example of a reasonable excuse included in the Act:

Kevin decides that he needs a cleaner for his house. He sees an advertisement on a social media site by a company offering domestic cleaning services. Kevin did not know that the company was an unlicensed labour hire services provider nor was there anything in the advertisement or otherwise to make him aware that he should check that the company was licensed.

That’s going to raise a lot of questions about what you should and shouldn’t know about the scheme. You might get away with it if you’re a householder, like “Kevin”; but my guess is that you wouldn’t want to be putting your eggs in that particular basket if you’re a business acquirer of labour hire services.

Where is the anti-avoidance measure?

It seems like a curious omission, but I can’t I can’t find an express anti-avoidance measure. I’d be interested to learn why, if anyone knows the reason. The last thing you’d want is a scheme that is tolerant of a certain degree of contrived ignorance! Maybe there’ll be some attempt to fix it in the regulations.

Fit and proper person test

A version of the now familiar fit and proper person test applies to all “influential” people for a provider. Influential people for a corporation include a person who can exercise a power to:

  • take part in a directorial, managerial or executive decision for the corporation; or
  • elect or appoint a person as an executive officer in the corporation; or
  • significantly influence the conduct of the corporation.

Think about that last point for a moment. Who could that include? Your significant shareholders? Your financiers? Your industry association? Your suppliers? Your clients? Your spiritual advisors?

It’s a pretty wide category and it’s going to take a fair bit of common sense to know where to draw the boundaries. And, of course, there’ll be outliers.

The rest of it

As to the rest of it, there’s a lot of administrative provisions about applications, licence onditions, enforcement, inspectors, appeals, the establishment of a Commission and an Advisory Committee.

You can read a copy of the Act for yourself here.

Treat it as a broad framework and expect more detail  – including information about fees – in the regulations when they become available. There’s still a bit of work to be done before we know how this scheme will actually work.

Andrew C. Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour Hire Licensing Laws: Do they apply outside their home states?

ExtraterritorialityQueensland, South Australia, and Victoria have now all passed separate labour hire licensing laws[1].

All three acts contain provisions that attempt to extend their application beyond state boundaries.[2] The exact wording in each case is different but basically, they attempt to extend the laws to the maximum extent of the legislative power of their respective Parliaments. No one knows for sure exactly what that is because it hasn’t been tested in this context. But it seems generally correct to say that, provided there is some real connection (or nexus), with the home state, the laws are capable of applying in some other state (or country). Continue reading

Do Victoria’s Christmas Talent Agencies and Incorporated Christmas Talent Need Labour Hire Licences?

This Article May Contain Sensitive Material

For any youthful readers of this piece, let me start by saying that we all know that the real Father Christmas lives at the North Pole with Mother Christmas, the Pixies, Rudolph and the other reindeer.

And we all know that all the friendly people who run around in costume – the Santas, Mothers Christmas (I hope that’s the correct plural), the Pixies, the Wise Persons, Shepherds, Angels, and pantomime camels – let’s call them the Christmas Talent – are just helping out. It could be a franchise, I’m not sure. I haven’t looked at it.

At least, I hope we all know that Christmas Talent is mostly pretend. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to see them because we know that when they start popping up in the stores, Christmas is not too far away.

I’m Concerned

Now here’s my concern.

Up until now, a lot of the Christmas Talent have been sourced through talent agencies. Up until now, that’s not been a problem in Victoria – but now it might be.

It might be a problem because if you’re supplying workers (let’s say Christmas Talent) to another person (let’s say a department store) to perform work in and as part of the store’s business or undertaking (seems likely), then you might need a labour hire licence.

This test is sometimes called an “integration test”. It’s not easy to apply, and it can depend on subtle, fact-sensitive inquiries that can only be determined authoritatively by a court. It can also have some pretty unexpected results.

Queensland & South Australia

Queensland and South Australia got this right because in those States talent agencies are subject to private employment agency regulation in addition to labour hire licensing.

So, Queensland and South Australia both created an exemption from the need to have a labour hire licence if you are acting solely as a private employment agency.[1]

Victoria

But there’s no similar exemption in Victoria. So, if you’re supplying a worker to do work in and as part of another person’s business or undertaking, you’ll possibly need a licence (unless you can bring yourself within one of the other exceptions).

Also in Victoria, if you’re sourcing and placing workers (let’s say Christmas Talent) with clients who are engaging them directly as independent contractors, and you continue to handle payroll or other aspects of the placement administration, you’ll possibly need a licence (unless you can bring yourself within one of the other exceptions).

Incorporated Christmas Talent

It gets even more complicated if your Christmas Talent is self-incorporated – i.e. they’re working through their own small company. That’s because their own small company is supplying the individuals who perform the work and therefore needs to hold a licence in its own right (unless it can bring itself within one of the exceptions).

Fortunately, there is an exception for small companies that have no more than two directors and only supply their directors who participate in management or share in the profits.

But that exception will only go so far. An exempt company couldn’t supply say, Three Wise Men – apart from whatever difficulties they might have in sourcing three wise men (old joke). Two would be OK provided they were both directors who participated in management or shared in the profits.

Likewise, a pantomime camel needs two people (front end and back end). That would be OK provided both ends were directors who participated in management or shared in the profits. But if one end gets sick – they’re going to end up with a two-legged camel unless they’ve got a labour hire licence. That’s because substitution requires a third person.

Same deal with Rudolph. And if you’re thinking of hiring the Von Trapp Family Carol Singers – better check their labour hire licence unless they’re incorporated and you’re only wanting two of them!

Although there’s an exemption for incorporated workers, it doesn’t extend to family partnerships or other unincorporated business structures.[2]

Call Me a Grinch!

I could go on… But you’ll have the gist of it by now, and you can perhaps see the problem that arises when labour-hire licensing is introduced on a universal coverage basis without being targeted to the sectors where it’s really needed.

Did anyone think this would be an outcome when the scheme was proposed? Of course, they didn’t. The States were urged to adopt targeted schemes. The Victorian Forsyth Inquiry even recommended it.  But those urgings and recommendations were mostly ignored.

So if you’re hiring Christmas Talent in Victoria this year or if you’re working as Incorporated Christmas Talent, whatever other checks you do, be sure to check that any necessary labour hire licence issues are covered.

Boy Riding Camel

 

 

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

 

[1] It can get tricky if you’re doing more than acting purely as a private employment agency – say handling payroll or administration.

[2] South Australia fixed this up by Gazettal on 26 September 2019. Although the exemption is still limited to a maximum of two workers.

 

Victorian Labour Hire Scheme: Mopping Up

Close up 0370Victoria’s labour hire licensing scheme is fully up and running – though perhaps stumbling forwards might be a better description.

After 6 months only about 380 licences have been granted, with another 50 or so granted subject to payment of fees.

There are more than 3,700 unprocessed applications. They are still coming in despite missing the cut-off date. If you’re in that long queue – or having to join it because you’ve decided you’d like to extend your labour hire business to Victoria – it could be as much as 12 months before you hear the outcome of your application.

Near-Misses

One of the things that did surprise me was the fact that 200 or so applicants missed the cut-off last week by only a matter of days – even hours in some cases.

Cleaning firms seemed to be strongly represented amongst the near-misses, perhaps because of uncertainty about how the complex integration test and deemed worker provisions applied. Though there were others as well, including general labour hire providers, interstate providers, and at least one legal recruiter.

Misses will hurt

Those near-misses are going to hurt because, unless the applicants can fix something up quickly with the Authority, a miss is as good as a mile.

It’s now an offence under Victorian labour hire licensing laws:

  • to provide labour hire services without a licence
  • to advertise willingness to provide labour hire services if you don’t hold a licence
  • to acquire labour hire services from an unlicensed provider
  • to be involved in avoidance arrangements.

Reaction

So, what’s likely to be happening now?

I suspect that there may be more than a few who have obtained their licences, or got their applications in ahead of the cut-off, who’ll be looking closely at the near-misses and perhaps giving their competitors, or their clients, a cordial “heads up”.

The regulator may be looking as well. If you’ve provided details of your clients and their workplaces, the regulator will know where to find them and might consider giving your clients a cordial reminder that the prohibitions are now in effect.

I suspect that there’ll be a few in the near-miss category, who’ll need to look at their supply arrangements to decide how quickly they can get out of them and if they can get out of them now without penalty.

Clients are likely to be looking at the registers to see which side of the cut-off their suppliers fall on. You might find that they are terminating contracts with unlicensed providers and thinking about what action they can take to recover the cost of entering into new or alternative supply arrangements.

There’ll be workers (and their unions) who’ll be wondering whether they still have jobs, and more than a few clients might be wondering how they can transition supplier arrangements.

There’ll also be more than a few who’ll have to fix up their websites and marketing so that they’re no longer advertising a willingness to provide labour hire services.

Maybe it will settle down eventually, but until then it’s a bit of a mess.  Who knows, perhaps a federal scheme that prevails over state laws with a concerted move to dismantle the systems in the three states that now have labour hire licensing will be all that can clean it up.

 

Andrew C. Wood

Do Auto Club Breakdown Contractors Need Labour Hire Licences?

Adac breakdown assistance

The background

Like me, you might be wondering how that question even arises. It shouldn’t be a problem because it should be clear to anyone who hasn’t been overthinking it, that a motor mechanic business is not a labour hire businesses. It should be clear that the labour hire licensing laws, which have now been established in three states,[1] didn’t come about because of any real concern about worker exploitation in automobile club roadside assistance schemes.

But you can throw clarity out the window as soon as you get legislation that tries to cast the widest possible net without too much thought about what it might catch.

And to cast that net, Victoria and South Australia included a provision in their licensing schemes that says you need a licence if you’re supplying workers to another person to perform work in and as part of the other person’s business or undertaking.

Integration test

The critical wording is, “perform the work in and as part of the business or undertaking of the other person”.

It’s sometimes called an “integration test”, and it helps to distinguish ordinary contracting for the supply of services from labour hire. It distinguishes the kind of thing motor mechanics do in their own workshops or on roadside callouts from the kind of thing a labour hire provider does when it sends its workers to help out in that workshop or at the roadside.

The provisions in the different states vary slightly in the way they are expressed, but we needn’t worry about that just at the moment.

The problem also arises in Queensland, where the legislation doesn’t even provide guidance in the form of the integration test.

The question

So, if you are a motor mechanic business that is contracted to an automobile club (or anyone else for that matter) to provide a roadside assistance service, how do you tell if you are supplying workers to perform the work in and as part of the business or undertaking of the host automobile club, rather than in and as part of your own business?

It’s complicated!

If you ask the Victorian Labour Hire Authority, assuming you’re able to get a response before the cut-off date for lodging licence applications[2], they’ll probably tell you that they don’t give legal or business advice. They might, however, direct you to some scenarios which they’ve developed to help explain what they think their general definition of labour hire services means… and leave you to work it out for yourself.[3]

What you’ll read repeatedly is that “no one factor is definitive” and that it’s necessary to “look at the engagement as a whole”.  You’ll see examples of construction workers being sent along to do work alongside workers of a building firm being treated as labour hire workers regardless of whether the firm that sends them self-identifies as a building and construction firm or a labour-hire firm.

Positive factors

You’ll see that the Authority has identified a few positive indicators for identifying a labour hire relationship:

  • the work performed by the workers is a key function of the host’s business;
  • the work performed by the workers is the same as the work performed by the host’s own employees;
  • the host supplies the materials, and directs and supervises the work;[4]
  • the workers are doing work that the host is responsible for completing.

So, you look at the arrangement as a whole, weigh up a set of factors like that, and you reach a conclusion. Should be easy!

Secondee exception?

Once you’ve reached a conclusion. you might have to decide whether any of the regulatory exceptions apply. That can get tricky because they differ from state to state.

But one exception you might consider is the “secondee exception“. I’ve written about that in the context of footy clubs and their loan players.

In Victoria, you’d want to have a good understanding of the contractor’s employment arrangements, the breakdown mechanic’s expectations about continuing employment and whether the mechanic primarily performs work other than as a roadside assistance mechanic. if you’re a host, you’d want some assurance about those things and you’d want notification of any changes.

In Queensland, this would be the in-house employee exemption. it has much the same features as the Victorian secondee exception but only applies if the provider supplies the in-house employee to the other person to do work on a temporary basis on 1 or more occasions. There would have to be some doubt about whether it applies to a roadside mechanic whose primary job is to support an auto club’s breakdown service.

Grey areas

The examples that the regulator gives are mostly the easy ones which fall neatly on one side or other of the boundary. It’s the ones in the grey area that are going to cause the headaches. And that’s why we’re asking the question.

A closer look

Go back and look at the factors that the Victorian regulator identified.

Now imagine that:

  • the auto club provides a 24/7 roadside assistance service for its members (and for members of the public who sign up on a call-out);
  • the club employs its own workers to provide the service in metropolitan areas and during certain hours;
  • the motor mechanic’s business is contracted to provide a “seamless” service to the club to supplement the club’s service and to extend its coverage into areas, and at times, when the club’s own employees aren’t operating;
  • the club allocates an exclusive territory to the mechanic for the purpose of the club’s service; but, from time to time, the mechanic is required to extend service into another territory controlled by the club or to work alongside the club’s own employees – e.g. in order to meet response times during periods of peak demand, or to provide back-up in the club’s areas and during its operating hours;
  • the club requires the mechanic’s vehicles that are used in providing the roadside assistance service to be liveried exclusively in the club’s colours, and may even restrict their use for other purposes;
  • the club requires the mechanic’s staff to wear club uniforms when attending roadside callouts;
  • the club requires the mechanic’s staff to promote club services and authorises them to sign up motorists to club membership and other club services;
  • the club requires the mechanic’s vehicles to stock specified parts or parts that are supplied by the club’s preferred suppliers;
  • the club requires the work to be completed according to KPIs and procedures set by the club;
  • the club operates a complaints handling process and can arbitrate disputes that arise between the mechanic and motorist out of club-authorised services provided by the motor mechanic.

If you’re an auto club or a motor mechanic who’s contracted to an auto club or a roadside assistance service, you probably understand the detail of those arrangements far better than I do. You can likely say whether the scenario I’ve painted is realistic.

Breakdown!

But here’s the question: Keeping in mind that “no one factor is definitive” and “looking at the engagement as a whole”, what would the regulator say about whether the motor mechanic needs a labour hire licence in that scenario. What would it say about whether the club should only be dealing with licensed labour hire providers?

And if all it’s got to say is that it doesn’t give legal or business advice, then that’s not likely to be good enough.

If you apply the tests yourself and the answer you get is “maybe”, “possibly”, or “probably”, what are you going to do?

Safe options?

The safe options would seem to be to apply for a licence and/or change the basis of your service. But you’ll need to be quick. The scheme is already running in Queensland, and the prohibitions against unlicensed dealing will kick in for Victoria on 30 October 2019 and for South Australia on 1 November 2019.

If you’ve applied for a licence before the cut-off date (or if your provider has applied for a licence before the cut-off date), you might be able to continue to provide services until the licence application has been decided.

South Australia – Good sense starting to show

If you’re wondering about how this works in South Australia, you might be encouraged to learn that South Australia has a very sensible exception that applies if the provision of labour-hire services is not a “core function” of the provider.

Unfortunately, there’s not much guidance material to tell you whether the supply of an individual to do work in and as part of the business or commercial undertaking of another person is a “core function” of the provider or not. But the South Australian regulator can move quickly to establish exemptions by Gazettal – and has done so already on several occasions. It may be worthwhile raising the issue through that channel.

One day the courts will tell us

In the meantime, the rest of us will be left with the cost of uncertainty as we wait for a Supreme Court to make the fact-sensitive inquiries that are needed to tell us what the legislation means and how it applies in grey areas into which the regulators haven’t dared to venture …yet.

And let’s hope we can avoid a breakdown.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

[1] Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.

[2] 29th October 2019.

[3] Tip: MAke sure you read and compare all the scenarios. If you get it wrong, there are hefty fines. If you get it wrong in Qld or SA, there are hefty fines and prison sentences – though you’d be very unlucky to receive a large fine or prison sentence for an honest mistake. The Qld regulator, sensibly, seems to have adopted the practice of issuing warnings before prosecution.

[4] Even though the legislation expressly says that it doesn’t matter who controls performance the work.

Tuesday TalkAbout: a Free Short Webinar Series

contact-us-hand-speech-bubble-copy-space-picture-id1130100468 (1)

Some of you may know from earlier posts that I’m currently exploring how positive attitudes towards continuing professional development can support recruitment & staffing practitioners in meeting regulatory and industry requirements to acquire and maintain prescribed levels of relevant professional knowledge. It’s part of my response to RCSA’s #loveyourwork initiative.

So, I’ve put together a series of ten short (30-minute) webinars covering topics of importance and interest to members of the RCSA-hosted Labour  Hire Licensing & Regulation (Aust & NZ) LinkedIn Group, which I moderate.

The webinars have been scheduled, at members’ request, to take place at 8.30 am on a Tuesday. The webinars are presented using the ZOOM webinar platform. You can ask questions anonymously or send them to me ahead of the webinar if you like.

Here’s the program. It has been designed to inform and to encourage discussion amongst members who are keen to advance their continuing professional development.

You can register for the free webinars by following the links provided. I hope you’ll take part!

 

2019 Program

15/10/19 Independent Contractors: Removing the Grey Areas (Completed) (Archived)

Join us for our “Tuesday TalkAbout” webinar when we’ll be shedding light on the topic of independent contracting. What is it, really? How is it different from other work relationships like employment? Why does it matter?

22/10/19 Labour Hire Licensing: Using Conditions to Get Over the Line (Completed) (Archived)

We launch a discussion about how to access the regulators’ power to grant conditional licences and examine actual conditions that have been used to support the grant of licences that might otherwise not have been approved.  

29/10/19 Labour Hire Licensing: Rejections, Appeals & Alternatives (Completed) (Archived)

Our discussion of labour-hire licencing extends into the area of objections, rejections, appeals, and alternatives. We look at some actual objections, suspensions and cancellations and discuss how to deal with them. 

05/11/19 Service Continuity: Tips & Traps for Agency Work (Completed) (Archived)

What is the status of your agency workers between assignments?  Can they accrue long service leave and other service-based entitlements when not working? Has the status been affected by recognition of the so-called permanent-casual?  We examine two common models of agency worker engagement and discuss their pros and cons. 

12/11/19 Casual Conversion: How to Use Evidence-Based Responses (Completed) (Archived)

You will be familiar with casual conversion provisions in awards and agreements. But how do you respond to a casual conversion request? We discuss the type of evidence you can use, how to interpret it, and how you might present it when responding to a casual conversion request. 

19/11/19 Labour Contracting, Supply Chains & Service Networks: Explained (Completed) (Archived)

Although it is common to talk about labour supply chains, there are actually very few situations where it occurs. That’s because labour is different from other commodities. We discuss different models of labour contracting and look at examples of recruitment & staffing agency service networks to see what is really going on. 

26/11/19 Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Worker Protections (Completed) (Archived)

How are you going to respond when your clients ask for a report about what steps you’ve been taking to combat modern slavery and the exploitation of vulnerable workers in their supply chains? We build on our understanding of labour contracting, supply chains and service networks to discuss how you can respond positively to your client’s (and regulators’) requirements. 

03/12/19 Certification Schemes as Regulatory Alternatives: Pros and Cons (Completed) (Archived)

Can industry certification schemes be viable alternatives to statutory licensing schemes? We discuss different types of certification schemes and consider their pros and cons as regulatory alternatives. In doing so, we’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? 

10/12/19 Freelance Platforms: New Idea or New Technology?

You might have a view about whether freelance platforms present a threat to the industry or whether they are part of the industry. But have you ever looked into their terms and conditions to see how they run and where they fit within the industry? We discuss actual examples of some freelance platform terms and conditions to see how they operate and why they are different from your usual terms and conditions. Register for this webinar here

17/12/19 Piece Rates: Explained

We discuss piece rates under some common awards and consider how to manage risk when applying them. What do courts look for? How can you get that sort of information from your clients? How can you protect yourself against underpayment claims? Register for this webinar here

 

Andrew C Wood Hon FRCSA (Life)

Contractor Management Companies under Victoria’s Labour Hire Licensing Scheme.

Victoria’s Labour Hire Licensing scheme may cause some headaches as it tries to extend its coverage to contractor management service providers. That’s because there’s likely to be uncertainty about what a contractor management service provider actually does.

Section 8(2) of the Act provides:

 (2)     A person (a provider provides labour hire services if—

(a)     in the course of conducting a business of providing contractor management services, the provider recruits one or more individuals for, or places one or more individuals with another person (a host ) to perform work in and as part of a business or undertaking of the host; and

(b)     the individuals are workers for the provider, within the meaning of section 9(2)(b).

The explanatory memorandum, which accompanied the legislation in its passage through Victorian Parliament somewhat unhelpfully explained:

Contractor management services” is not defined in the Act, but has its ordinary meaning, which covers services whereby a business recruits independent contractors on behalf of a third party (host) and, following engagement of the independent contractors by the host, continues to manage the performance of the contract between the independent contractors and the host. This might include, for example, providing administration and payroll functions, supervision functions or performance management functions in relation to the independent contractor.

Section 9(2)(b) attempts to define who is a worker for a contractor management services provider.  It says:

An individual is a worker, for a provider, if an arrangement is in force between the individual and the provider under which the provider—
(a) … or
(b) recruits the individual as an independent contractor for one or more other persons to perform work, and manages the contract performance by the independent contractor.

But what if the contractor appoints the business to manage the performance of the contract (or parts of it) – i.e. the business is a contractor appointed CMC (it happens)?  Does it make a difference?

And what if the contractor is not an individual (as required by s. 8(2)(a) and 9(2)(b)), but is an incorporated worker instead?

What if the provider recruits the incorporated entity and leaves it to the incorporated entity to recruit or provide the individual – perhaps under the reg.4(1)(c) exception?

Does the incorporated worker exception still apply if the contractor is supplied as a cleaner in a commercial premises? (see reg. 5(a)).

What other outsourced functions, apart from administration and payroll functions, supervision functions and performance management functions, amount to contractor management services according to the “ordinary meaning” – whatever that is? Would the provision of safety inductions be enough? Would onboarding assistance, or “performance monitoring” for the purpose of managing a candidate replacement guarantee be enough?

And does managing, say, payroll really amount to managing the contract performance by the independent contractor? Isn’t payment an obligation that falls on the “host”? Although the explanatory memorandum spoke about managing both contractor and host performance, the Act doesn’t. It speaks only of managing contractor performance.

These might be the sorts of questions that the Authority would be keen to dismiss as questions “asked by clever lawyers” – as though that were a bad thing. But thank goodness there are some who are asking them and attempting to answer them… because, at some point, they’re going to be contested as matters of black letter law and not merely as a “vibe” picked up from a current affairs programme, a campaign manifesto, or a regulator’s website.

And before we ever get to that point, there’ll be plenty of providers, hosts, and contractors wanting to know where they stand.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

It Was All Smooth Sailing Until that Bl@@dy Independent Contractor Problem Raised Its Head…Again!

iStock-536170913.jpgOne of the challenges that will confront Victorian labour hire providers is that of providing the Authority with accurate data about:

  • the total number of employees;
  • the total number of independent contractors; and
  • the total number of workers who have been employed or engaged as both an employee and an independent contractor. 

It shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s clear from the wording of the regulations* that the Authority will be expecting applicants to get the classifications right. And that’s never easy.

Bromberg J, in On Call Interpreters and Translators Agency Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation (No 3) [2011] FCA 366, summed it up pretty well at para [206].

…the absence of a simple and clear definition which explains the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is problematic. It is troubling that in the circumstances of the bicycle couriers dealt with in Hollis, the parties involved needed to travel to the High Court to obtain a clear exposition of the legal status of the couriers.  Workers and those who employ or engage them require more clarity from the law. That is particularly so when important legislation such as the Fair Work Act (and its predecessors dating back to 1904) have steadfastly avoided defining what is an employee, yet demand (on pain of civil penalty) that there be no misrepresentation as to the nature of the work relationship. (citations omitted)

This time the penalties are likely to include refusal, loss or suspension of a licence and/or penalties for making a false declaration if the information is required to be supported by a declaration under the Oaths and Affirmations Act 2018 (Vic). And that carries penalties of up to about $97,000 or imprisonment for 5 years or both.

And then, there’s the little issue about what the Authority is going to do with the information. Remember, you also have to provide information about the industries into which you supply services and the Awards under which you operate. That information is likely to be matched up.

What do you think is going to happen if an applicant declares that it supplies an uncharacteristically high number of independent contractors to an industry in which independent contracting is not the typical or dominant form of engagement – say nursing or horticulture?

You’re going to want to get this right!

So, to plan your application and give it the best chance to avoid getting tangled up, come along to one of WorkAccord’s Vic Labour Hire Licensing: “Up-Close & Personal” masterclasses or advanced workshops as we work through these issues.

Better still, come along to them all!

You can find out more about the series on our Eventbrite registration pages:

  • Masterclass #1 Reach and Limitations (23/04/19 from 9.00 am to 12:00 pm)
  • Masterclass #2 Managing Adverse Outcomes (23/04/19 from 1.00 pm to 4:00 pm)
  • Workshop #3 Prepare Your Application (3/05/19 – morning and afternoon sessions)

I hope to see you there.

Andrew C. Wood

* Labour Hire Licensing Regulations 2018 (Vic), regs 11 and 12.

Collective Bargaining in the Freelance, Contracting and Gig Economies

Young people work in modern office.As job-based employment seemingly evolves toward job-based entrepreneurship in the freelance, contracting and gig economies, we may soon witness the emergence of new models of workforce organisation and worker representation. That is, if the ACCC’s plan to grant a class exemption allowing small businesses to bargain collectively with their customers and suppliers goes ahead.

Collective bargaining, in this context, involves two or more competitors getting together to negotiate with a supplier or customer (the “target”) about terms, conditions and/or prices.

It is distinguished from bargaining under the Fair Work Act in that the parties who get together are not employees; they are actual business competitors.

They include many contractors and freelancers, working in the on-hire and gig environments.

They may be technology contractors, medical locums, project managers, professional science & engineering contractors, designers & creatives, book-keepers, contract cleaners, contract logistics operators, or translators.

Indeed, they may be any small business that undertakes professional, skilled, or trade work that is done by workers who perform their work in, and as part of, their own businesses.

Recruitment, contracting, and staffing agencies would therefore do well to follow this new development closely; and begin to think about the challenges and opportunities that the ACCC’s proposal presents.

For example, what might an on-hire or IT contracting agency expect from a scheme that allows a pool of  its IT contractors to bargain collectively with it on price, terms and conditions of engagement?

Who might represent them? Should the current restriction on trade union representation apply? If it did, might we witness the emergence of contractor “guilds” that would be able to operate outside the Fair Work bargaining framework?

How might the ACCC’s concept of joint procurement bargaining play out, if it allowed that same pool of IT contractors to bargain simultaneously with their IT contracting agency and its clients?

What might small recruitment agencies, working in the creative or medical locum industries, gain from being able to bargain collectively with clients on price, terms and conditions of supply – without the need for any notification or authorisation?

What might the competition impact be on medium and larger businesses, who fall outside the scope of the class exemption; or who may be the targets of collective bargaining?

How might the role of industry associations develop to support members looking for collective bargaining resources and solutions?

These are just a few questions that recruitment, contracting, and staffing agencies (and their industry associations) might now be asking. No doubt there are many others.

The ACCC would like to hear about them by 21 September 2018.

 

Andrew C. Wood

ACCC Proposed Class Exemption to Allow Agribusiness Collective Bargaining: Unintended Labour Market Consequences?

Strawberry Harvest in Central CaliforniaEarlier this year, I was asked to outline 10 steps that providers and users of labour hire services could take to prepare for the anti-competitive labour hire licensing schemes that were about to start in South Australia and Queensland (and more recently, Victoria).  

It now looks like step #9  – Anticipate and adjust to changes in the market – may prove especially important if the ACCC’s plan to grant a class exemption allowing agribusinesses to negotiate collectively with their suppliers goes ahead.

Step #9 highlighted the importance of appreciating that:

  • not everyone would get a licence;
  • this would leave gaps in the market, especially in regional areas, that would require new networked services supply models; and
  • consolidation and rationalisation would occur around licensed providers, giving them  increased market power and a significant market advantage over licence applicants, many of whose applications are still pending.

The ACCC’s plan to allow a collective bargaining class exemption would “provide a ‘safe harbour’, so businesses that qualify can collectively bargain without the risk of breaching competition law”. 

That would significantly offset any increase in market power or competitive advantage that a licenced provider might obtain.

Buyers and sellers of labour hire services should now be thinking strategically about how that offset could be harvested to best advantage to produce service and pricing models, which do not simply drive prices down again to levels that compromise the ability of reputable labour hire providers to meet safety net, decent work, and accommodation standards.

The relationship between sustainable business modelling, bargaining, and labour exploitation was beginning to be explored in the Fels Wage Fairness Panel Inquiry into the 7-Eleven Franchise.

Although there is still much work to be done, the ACCC’s plan is likely to advance the discussion of that relationship … but only if labour hire, contracting, and staffing services providers join the debate.

The ACCC is inviting submissions on its proposed plan by 21 September 2018.

 

Andrew C. Wood