February 8, 2018  |  Second reading

Labour hire licensing Bill 2017

Mr Howard – (Buninyong) (15:38:53) — I too am very pleased to follow on after the Minister for Health and a long line of members from this side of the house — the Labor side of the house, the government side of the house — to speak in favour of this Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017. We know that over a long period of time, but particularly more recently, the number of people being indirectly hired through labour hire firms has increased and therefore employers do not have that direct relationship with the people they are employing on either a regular or temporary basis to undertake their work. We know that as a result of this there have been a number of complaints raised by people to each of us in our electorates and to a range of other people. A number of us have seen the episode of Four Corners that has been much talked about throughout this debate that showed examples of people who have been abused when employed in an indirect manner of employment by labour hire firms.

We know, though, that there are a number of labour hire firms that are doing appropriate jobs and linking up people who need employees with those who are available for employment, that the process is working appropriately in a number of cases. But clearly we have seen in the horticulture industry, the meat industry, the cleaning industry or a number of industries that seem to particularly use the labour hire process to meet their needs a number of cases of abuse. And we know that these people are generally lower paid people and people who are vulnerable. Sometimes they are new to our country and looking to make a fresh start. Sometimes they are young people looking to get into the workforce on a more regular basis and to make a start in the workforce. Sometimes they are older people who have been displaced from other forms of employment. They are clearly vulnerable individuals looking to get on, to get some income and to get a reliable income source to keep them and their families, in many cases, supported. Then they find that they are being abused, that the conditions of their labour cannot be relied upon to provide them with the money they should earn as a result of their work, that the employer is not following through on health and safety precautions that should be part of their working conditions and that they are not being supported in a range of other ways that people who are directly employed by their employer are.

So this government has acted. It has acted very appropriately, first of all, by engaging Professor Forsyth to undertake an inquiry into this matter to inform the government. The Forsyth inquiry received 700 submissions, and in its 17 days of public hearings across Victoria it gained some staggering feedback that showed we need a good government to respond to the issue. It made a number of recommendations to the government that it is following through on.

One of those recommendations was that all employment hire companies be registered. It was suggested, quite sensibly, that this should be a national registration process. The inquiry’s recommendation was for the state government to lobby the federal government, which should see that we need to take an appropriate approach and register labour hire organisations across the country on a standard basis. But sadly we know that the Turnbull government was totally unreceptive to this concept and simply threw it back at the state government and said, ‘You’ve got the authority to do this. You get on and do it yourself. We’re not interested in supporting a national system. We don’t care, really, to get into this area’.

We learned in the early part of this debate from a few contributors from the coalition that clearly they do not support this either. They are beholden to some employers who say, ‘No, we like this way of employing people. We don’t want to put at risk our ability to undercut hire costs. We like the ability to undercut health and safety regimes’, and so on. The coalition has no interest in supporting this legislation and the need to protect vulnerable workers. In fact it is not just that they do not support it; they spoke quite aggressively against it initially and then faded out pretty early on in this debate so that only Labor MPs have stood up and said, ‘We want to support vulnerable workers’.

What is in this legislation that we are being told to fear or not support, according to the opposition? It is hard to understand because this bill does not impose any additional workplace laws and it does not impose any additional taxes, superannuation or health and safety obligations on people who are in the labour hire business. It merely requires the applicant to be fully licensed and to meet the existing obligations. It is not as though it is putting a great regime in place that is to be feared and that is going to put in place further requirements upon those who are doing the right thing in the labour hire area. Clearly those who are not doing the right thing in the labour hire area do need to fear this legislation because they will be brought to account. They will need to be registered, and there is the opportunity, of course, through this process to vet them properly and to do it on an ongoing basis.

This is very sound legislation. It is simply putting in place a process by which people will be appropriately registered if they are in the labour hire business to ensure that they do meet the basic requirements that are set out at the moment. They will be paying all staff appropriately, they will be paying all staff the other additional payments that they might need in terms of superannuation and they will be meeting health and safety obligations. Those obligations will not simply be sidestepped because of a lack of clarity about who is actually the employer.

This is a very important piece of legislation. I am really pleased that the Minister for Industrial Relations has worked through this process, as we committed to doing before we came to office. Through the Forsyth inquiry we have shown that this is necessary and important legislation to provide the safeguards for those vulnerable people across the state. It shows that this is a government that cares for these sorts of people. Clearly, I think, that is why people on this side of the house do become members of the Labor Party. They want to see those who are vulnerable in our community appropriately supported. And it perhaps does show a very defining difference between those on this side of the house and those on the other side of the house, who clearly just cannot deal with these issues. They do not seem to think that they need to support vulnerable workers in our community, and clearly, in fact, they like this system of having contract staff or staff who are employed via a third party, where it does get a bit more unclear as to who has responsibility for supporting the staff, because they see that as an opportunity to undercut agreements and so on in the workplace.

I am certainly pleased to be standing here with my Labor colleagues supporting this bill. It has been soundly worked through, as other people have said. We have been listening to those awful cases of people who have been abused when they are vulnerable, hoping to get into the workforce and looking forward to getting reliable work and being treated appropriately as workers. We heard from The Nationals, and the Leader of the National Party spoke most vociferously against this legislation, because it is going to challenge those in the horticulture sector or in the meat sector, whereas this should not be the case. In fact we have heard from the Victorian Farmers Federation that they are generally supportive of this legislation — especially I suppose in relation to the horticulture sector, where they need people regularly at particular times through the year — because they want to show that they are good employers so that they can continue to attract people to work for them. So those who are doing the right thing can appreciate this bill; those who are doing the wrong things need to beware.