Industry red tape concern for labour hire workers

By Country News

Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has supported changes aimed at improving fairness for labour hire workers.

But Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh has criticised the plan to overhaul the industry as only adding red tape.

Two weeks ago the Victorian Government hit out at Opposition MPs voting against the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017, legislation to ‘‘stop exploitation in the Victorian labour hire industry’’ and introduce a universal licensing scheme to protect labour hire workers.

Ms Sheed said she had initially harboured concerns about the red tape that went into setting up a system for contractors.

After speaking with constituents she ‘‘came to the view that the abuse that has been there and still is to some extent, warrants a system to be set up to deal with dodgy contractors who do the wrong thing’’ — especially, she said, when it concerned workers from other countries where language difficulties compromised an ability to defend their position.

Mr Walsh believed most farmers and contract workers did the right thing, and any further regulations would be a cost they could not afford.

‘‘This legislation goes considerably further than a lot of the recommendations out of the inquiry into labour hire, and we are concerned this will limit the amount of labour available,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘In this legislation, if a contractor doesn’t do the right thing, it sets in place a process where farmers will have to pay huge fines for a contractor not doing the right thing, and that’s just blatantly wrong.’’

Mr Walsh said he believed laws in place under the Fair Work Act that held wrong-doers to account were effective, but a recent Goulburn Valley case highlighted flaws in the system.

Thirteen Shepparton workers remain thousands of dollars out of pocket due to ‘‘privacy laws’’, despite Fair Work Ombudsman involvement.

Tallygaroopna farmer Frank Carmichael, who represented the workers during the process, said while he believed there were investigative resources to do the job, there was not enough money invested into hiring enough people to carry out the work.

‘‘I believe that the way to go is by beefing up and increasing the manpower of the Fair Work Ombudsman,’’ Mr Carmichael said.

‘‘We need more people on the ground where they believe people are not abiding by the law.’’

Mr Carmichael said although the Victorian Government regulations were well-intended, they did not bring back the money the workers had lost, and would not prevent further exploitation.

Labour hire services may only be provided by organisations that have a licence and are listed on a publicly accessible register, under the new scheme.

Providers will be required to pass ‘‘a fit and proper person test’’ to get a licence and show compliance with workplace laws, labour hire laws, and minimum accommodation standards.