The ACT Government proposal to replace the current Employment Agent Licensing Scheme with a new labour hire licensing scheme is designed to enforce compliance with employer and workplace obligations. But it may need further scrutiny, and federal and state organisations responsible for compliance may need to work together to ensure an effective national scheme prevents unscrupulous or disreputable companies operating, according to Effective People account executive Kris Milne.
There is a large membership base in the ACT with professional associations such as the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo Australia), and the Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association of Australia and New Zealand.
To be a member of one of the professional associations, a labour hire company must meet stringent levels of professionalism, training and development in the same way any other peak industry body demands.
In addition, labour hire recruitment companies need to abide by no less than 14 federal and territory acts administered by 14 different federal and ACT government agencies to comply with labour hire laws.
“What the government is proposing is much more robust than the current licensing scheme, but reputable ACT labour hire agents already comply with both Commonwealth, state and territory laws, and their own professional association’s requirements,” says Kris.
Arrangements differ in each state and territory. Other labour hire licensing schemes are run individually by three states, and recruitment agencies are charged an annual fee of $5000-$7,000.
As an Australian Defence Force veteran operated business, Effective People works within the white-collar industry, placing veterans and non-veterans into work through labour hire or permanent job opportunities.
“If a small business operation providing jobs on a labour hire basis such as ours wishes to expand operations into another state or territory, it must pay a licensing fee in each state, and soon, one territory,” says Kris.
“We comply with different legislation in each state and territory with different compliance operations, rather than one national cohesive compliance operation.
“The point of all the current schemes is organisational compliance with labour hire laws, and yet there are no uniform compliance checks across the schemes or the governing acts and regulations despite the fees that are paid to fund compliance operations.
“It can be expensive and places an enormous administrative burden on a smaller business, and causes confusion.”
In the white-collar labour hire market, a contract job through a labour hire agency can be a ‘foot in the door’ for many people, such as ADF veterans, people with a disability, parents returning to the workforce after divorce or child rearing, and young people looking to get a start in the industry they wish to work in.
The issues were made clear by a number of organisations which testified at the Inquiry into the Extent, Nature and Consequence of Insecure Work in the ACT.
What emerged from the inquiry is a blanket scheme, charging for the right to exist in the ACT as a labour hire company.
“The fee itself is not a deterrent,” says Kris. “What will prove to be a real issue is compliance with the many current laws governing contracts and casual workers.
“At present, this is the role of 14 different state and federal agencies. So what will the new labour hire licensing scheme fee fund?”
Kris says this question must be answered and a proper debate held on whether there should be one national fee for legitimate labour-hire companies that funds compliance checks, or compulsory membership of a professional association in one state or territory – with one licensing fee – rather than six or seven different schemes with different compliance enforcement levels and introducing another fee for labour hire companies which complicates compliance and multiplies costs for small operations.
APSCo Australia managing director Lesley Horsburgh says there is a national proposal to govern labour hire agencies on the table, but it may be some way off.
“If it’s going to be a new scheme, make it one scheme, make it a national scheme – don’t add so many layers of complexity,” she says.