Employment

LABOUR HIRE LICENSING BILL 2017 Second reading

Wednesday 7th February 2018 - 

Second reading

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (16:44:24) — I rise to speak on the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017. I note the previous speaker, the member for Williamstown, talked about what they are doing with this bill and the fact that he was proud to be on the Labor side of politics. Can I say that I am actually proud to be on this side of politics, and I am proud to have been an employer who has employed hundreds of people in the horticulture industry before I entered this place. I have a very good understanding of the labour hire issues of particularly seasonal workers and the fact that it is not just a straight job where you go to work 40 hours a week every week of the year. It is variable in its demand. There is a real challenge for the horticulture industry and some other industries that use contract labour as to how you manage that variable demand for work. I think the member for Williamstown misses the point around that when he slams the issue of labour hire companies so much, because they are there to help industries that have a variable demand for labour.

If you think about a fruitgrower, some of the fruitgrowers in Swan Hill who are constituents of mine will have a variety of fruit that is ripe at a particular time. They will want 40 or 50 pickers for five days, six days or three days to pick that fruit when it is at its peak so they can send it to the markets so that we can enjoy it when we buy it. More importantly, they can actually have it in perfect condition to win export markets overseas. They want that large labour force quickly, and then they might have very little work for a week while they are waiting for the next variety to ripen, but the orchardist down the road or in the next district may be just out of time a fraction with their varieties and they can utilise that labour. It is nigh on impossible for individual growers to manage that surge capacity in labour. That is where labour hire companies have come to the fore in horticulture.

Mr Noonan interjected.

Mr WALSH — You are opposed to labour companies. If you actually read this bill and look at the draconian rules you are putting in place, you are out there to destroy labour hire companies. You are there to destroy labour hire companies with what you are putting in place here with the costs and the administrative burden that you have there. That cost will flow through to growers, and their competitiveness in the market will be ruined because of what you are proposing with this particular legislation.

Mr Noonan interjected.

Mr WALSH — No‑one is condoning not paying the right rates and not providing the right working circumstances, but you do not need this bloated bureaucracy that you are proposing. You do not need the costs that are going to be put onto employers that will cost jobs and cost international competitiveness, particularly in the horticulture industry.

As I was saying, those labour hire companies are there to help manage that surge capacity that those in the horticulture industry in particular need to manage their business. As I stated, I am very proud of the fact that in my farming life I would have employed literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people on a casual basis in our tomato‑growing enterprise. A lot of younger people got their first job in their school holidays or their university holidays working for us, and they were very happy with being able to take that work. A lot of mothers in particular, who could not get work in a rural area, could come along and earn money out of that particular work to help send their kids to university.

These are the sorts of things that will make it very difficult for people to do so in the future. I think the member for Williamstown in his contribution has totally missed the point around labour hire companies. There is a very real need for them. What they do not need is legislation that actually puts in place the Labour Hire Licensing Authority. It will cost to have a labour hire licensing commissioner and inspectors monitor the implementation of these things. And there is the fact that it is going to be self‑funding. As the member for Box Hill asked: is it going to be $5000, is it going to be $10 000, is it going to be $20 000 per labour hire company that people are going to have to pay to be part of this particular new legislation and regime? Because those costs will be passed back to those who can least afford it, and that is the employers who are competing on a world market with Chile, South Africa and those other countries. We run the risk of those costs actually putting us out of overseas markets at that particular time.

If you think about the legislation, if you go to the second‑reading speech, it talks about the fact that if a licence is granted, people who do not want a licence granted to a labour hire company can object to it, and that objection will have to be taken to VCAT. So if there is someone who has a labour hire company, and a disaffected employee wants to be mischievous and takes an objection to someone having a licence to operate a labour hire business, that business then gets tangled up in a long, convoluted process in VCAT. It could take a lot of time. How are they going to provide people for those particular businesses over that time? They will lose their contacts and they will be out of business. The licences are only valid for up to three years. Again, if you are in business, one of the key things is having the certainty to operate over a longer period of time so you can set up the infrastructure and the contacts to run a business. Three years is too short a time for a business to actually establish themselves and have that longevity to put themselves in a place to be viable into the future.

The authority may impose conditions on the licence, and the licences may be varied, suspended or terminated. If this bill is passed, this Parliament will be passing legislation that is going to set up this new Labour Hire Licensing Authority that has the power to impose any conditions it likes on a business. I must admit that I am not in favour of giving carte blanche to some yet‑to‑be‑formed authority as to what rules they may put in place around the operation of labour hire companies. I think that is just very poor business practice.

I am a cynic when it comes to the Labor Party — I will admit that before anyone interjects — but I will bet London to a brick that the Labour Hire Licensing Authority and the labour hire licensing commissioner will have strong links with the union movement or will be active members of the Labor Party to qualify for these particular jobs. I do not believe that the genuine, honest labour hire operators will get a fair hearing at all when you have effectively got authorities that are going to be stacked with Labor operatives and with union operatives so that this is effectively an entree to those operators. I know that the National Union of Workers has been very keen to get involved in the horticulture industry, trying to get involved in the packing sheds and the picking operations. The argument that they are using is, ‘You do the right thing by us. We are actually aiming ourselves at the supermarkets, but we can’t get into the supermarkets, so we’re going to do it via the growers’. Once they get into the grower’s operation, once this authority is set up and once those inspectors are there monitoring what is going on, I will bet London to a brick with that cynicism I have got that there will be information flow between those inspectors and the union organisers as to where they should go to actually sign up members and exploit this whole situation.

I am very proud to be part of an opposition that is opposing this legislation, because I think it is absolutely draconian. It reflects the old world employment values of those on the other side of the house. This is about their concept of some set workplace, some set factory, where people go along for a set number of hours for a set number of days a week and where it is a very regulated system.

Contract labour hire businesses manage the new world and the flexibility in the workplace. I have spoken at length about horticulture, but it is also in the meat industry and it is also in the IT sector. It is not necessarily only about the lower‑paid jobs in the workplace; it is also about the higher‑paid jobs in the IT sector and other places where they actually want a group of people for a period of time to do a job and then they do not need them for a period of time or do not need them at all in the future. A labour hire business can offer longer‑term employment by having other contracts for those people to go to work on.

In my view this is old world legislation by an old world Labor Party that is not focused on the new types of employment, the new workplace and the flexibility that is needed in the workplace, particularly for those businesses that have variable demand for labour. I oppose the legislation.

 

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