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

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the final whistle has blown

The compliance date for entities that were required to have policies was 1 January 2020. So, hopefully, anyone who needs one, now has their Corporations Act whistleblowers policy established and published. 

However, if you’re still putting some finishing touches to your policy, or if you are deciding to have one but are wondering where to start, this link to WorkAccord’s Whistleblowing Bootcamp webinar, which has been provided free of charge, might be of assistance.

Whistleblower Policy Announcement

Andrew C. Wood

Last Chance before Victorian Labour Hire Licencing Barrier Goes Up

LAsd day keep outWith almost 4,000 unprocessed licence applications back-logged in the system and the Victorian Labour Hire Authority processing them at a rate of no more than about 300 per month, it’s going to be a long time before there are any new entrants to the Victorian labour hire market!

So, if you’re planning on operating within the Victorian licensing catchment (and it’s not restricted to the state of Victoria!) any time in the next 18 months, it might be prudent to get your application lodged before midnight on 31 December 2019.

it looks like plenty of providers are taking advantage of the Authority’s extended grace period.

A couple of chores before 2020 arrives…

Time is ticking

Before you knock off to blow the party whistles for the arrival of 2020… please do take a moment to check if you need to have a Corporations Act whistleblower policy in place, and if you (or your labour hire suppliers) need to have lodged an application for a Victorian labour hire licence within the extended grace period.

With that out of the way, may we wish you a happy and safe new year and a fabulous 2020!

Industry Certification Schemes – Regulatory Alternatives?

TT_8 Cwertification Full

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

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

I hope you’ll join me.

Andrew C. Wood

 

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Slide1

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

I hope you’ll join me!

Andrew C. Wood

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew C. Wood

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.