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Businesses spooked by Queensland labour hire crackdown

Anglo American coal mine. Photo: Anglo American

Industry groups have challenged a number of aspects of the Queensland Government’s proposed labour hire reforms, which would require all labour hire providers to conform to a rigorous new licensing scheme.

Submissions for the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 were released by the state’s Finance and Administration Committee this month. The Committee, which is due to report its findings by July 24, released 38 public submissions, including papers from unions, major employers, and industry groups.

Several key unions spoke in full support of the Bill, which would require all labour hire companies to apply for a license within four weeks of its coming into effect, and would impose up to three years’ jail for breaches.

The Bill requires businesses who engage labour hire providers to only engage licensed providers, and requires licence holders to report regularly to the relevant ombudsman.

Similar schemes are proposed in other Labor states Victoria and South Australia, and Federal Labor has also vowed to install a national scheme if it comes into power.

The National Union of Workers submitted the reforms are required “to ensure worker exploitation is avoided and unlawful and unscrupulous behaviour is eliminated from the industry”.

Queensland industrial relations minister Grace Grace, who introduced the Bill in May, agreed.

“Some of the stories we’ve heard about worker exploitation are appalling,” Grace said. “Some farm workers have been forced to work entire days harvesting produce without food or drink, without pay, as well as being forced to live in isolated transient accommodation.”

Employer groups have dismissed the regulation, however, saying claims are overblown, and the new legislation is just the Labor Party pandering to its union backers.

“Labour hire does not pose a unique set of challenges beyond the capacity of existing legislation to manage,” the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland said in its submission, which listed 12 separate pieces of legislative regulation already in place.

“The prospect of an additional regulatory scheme is particularly daunting for businesses already suffering from the cumulative compliance burden of workplace relations laws, workplace health and safety laws, and other legal requirements.”

Ai Group special counsel Maurice Swan agreed, saying at a public hearing on June 22 the Bill “is not an effective antidote for the workplace wrongs it seeks to remedy”.

“It intrudes upon and impairs businesses and methods of conducting businesses which have no relationships to the wrongdoings of a fringe sector of the business community,” Swan said.

“It provides very loose definitions of coverage and unnecessarily broad discretions to regulators. These are sure signs of bad law.”

In its own submission, BHP Billiton also warned the current drafting of the Bill could result in “the regulation of employment relationships more generally, instead of effectively addressing the stated concerns within the labour hire industry”.

In particular, the mining giant said, the currently drafted Bill would include intra-business arrangements, specialised skills labour arrangements, and secondments of personnel.

“The coverage of these arrangements by the Bill are inconsistent with the stated intent of the Bill and appear to be unintended consequences,” BHP said.

The miner also called for further classification of certain definitions within the Bill, saying there was some confusion over what entities would be “providers,” and what arrangements would constitute “labour hire services” covered by the new regime.