The Victorian Government Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry & Insecure Work

December 11, 2015

Work and Workers

While much public debate (and attention of policy makers) is devoted to the quantity of jobs available in our economy, this inquiry brings a welcome focus on the quality of jobs available to Victorians.

The availability of quality jobs, with decent incomes and security is a central precondition of fairness, shared prosperity and the wellbeing of households.

This submission provides some context to the issues of insecure work and the workplace relations system (particularly labour hire) and focuses on:

  • The case for a Victorian regulatory intervention in relation to labour hire; and
  • The potential features of a labour hire licensing regime in Victoria.

General Observations

Australia has, in comparison to other developed economies, a very high incidence of non-standard work.

What distinguishes these forms of employment from traditional full time permanent employment in an economic sense is the transfer of risk from an employer to the individual worker (and by extension to their household).

A worker without security does not have to be directly threatened to understand that agitation in relation to their wages, working conditions or safety is problematic: the power imbalance between worker and employer is even greater and more obvious to all involved than in a traditional permanent employment relationship.

For many workers engaged via a labour hire agency, the legal identity of their employer is often unrelated to who actually controls their wages, hours and work system the corporation that engages the agency.

Clearly, not all insecure work is inappropriate. Some employers use insecure workers to cover seasonal or other peaks in demand for labour, or for short periods for other legitimate reasons. However, the incidence and pervasiveness of insecure work suggests that a significant proportion of insecure work (and labour hire in particular) is a function of employers seeking to avoid what would otherwise be their responsibilities to workers: wages and conditions payable under an enterprise agreement, paid leave in various forms and issues arising from a termination of employment and the right to organise.