A new law requiring labour hire providers to apply for a licence before employing people in the ACT passed in the Legislative Assembly last week, despite a peak body for construction holding “serious concerns” about the scheme.
The ACT’s Labour Hire Licensing Scheme will also demand labour hire providers meet a ‘suitable person’ test and demonstrate a history of ongoing compliance with industry standards and workplace laws.
ACT Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety, Suzanne Orr, said the Bill is “designed to do exactly that by ensuring our most vulnerable workers can expect the same workplace standards as any other worker in the ACT”.
Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said now is the wrong time to regulate new employment, given ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) job data shows the ACT has experienced the greatest job loss in the construction industry nationally at 8%.
“This week’s (week commencing 18 May) jobs data reveals that Canberra is not immune from the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Hopkins said.
“The Bill will make it an offence to engage someone through a labour hire company which has not correctly navigated the complex licensing regulation that the ACT is wanting to impose.”
Mr Hopkins said the labour hire licensing Bill “will burden labour hire companies with a new obligation to obtain a licence before employing people, including young apprentices, in the ACT.
“The timing of today’s (21 May) Bill shows a lack of understanding by the Minister of the real issues being experienced by ACT small business, many of whom rely on the flexible employment arrangements that reputable labour hire companies provide,” he said.
Ms Orr said she is “disappointed that the MBA are not supportive of the Government’s Bill”, which she says will” ultimately protect workers employed in labour hire arrangements and reward employers who do the right thing”.
“Recent inquiries across the country, including here in the ACT, have highlighted the vulnerability of labour hire workers to poor treatment at work.
“While we will do everything we can to support local business, we will not allow Canberra workers to be exploited and we will continue to fight for their right to safe and stable employment,” she said.
The labour hire scheme will include a six-month transition period commencing on 1 January 2021, which Ms Orr said businesses would also be given time to prepare for, acknowledging the effects of COVID-19 on the local economy.
Mr Hopkins questioned the timing of the six-month transition period.
“According to a number of economic forecasts, the economy is still expected to be under significant pressure at that time,” he said.
A publicly available licence register will assist businesses, workers and the community to know if they are dealing with legitimate labour hire providers.
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