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Australia – Jail for exploitative employers, national labour-hire licensing scheme: Government accepts recommendations

07 March 2019

Jail time for employers that exploit workers and a national labour-hire licensing scheme were among 22 recommendations called for in a report by Australia’s Migrant Workers’ Taskforce that were accepted Thursday by Australia’s coalition government, according to an announcement by Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer.

“The exploitation of workers in Australian workplaces is not only illegal, it harms individuals, undercuts law-abiding employers and reflects poorly on Australia’s international reputation,” O’Dwyer said.

Only the most serious and egregious cases of labour exploitation would be subject to criminal penalties, O’Dwyer said. Not employers that accidentally or inadvertently do the wrong thing.

The recommendations also called for a national labour hire licensing scheme among other things that would focus only on labour-hire companies in the horticulture, meat processing, cleaning and security industries. The scheme would be mandatory for labour-hire firms in those industries, and host employers would be required to use only registered labour-hire operators.

It was a move welcomed by the Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association of Australia and New Zealand.

“As representatives of an exceptional group of professional labour hire operators, we are sick of the enormous achievements of our industry — creating meaningful and rewarding work opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Australians — being tarred by the brush of this dodgy minority,” Charles Cameron, CEO of the RCSA, said in a statement.

Cameron also lauded the national licensing scheme’s focus on specific industries rather than the entire labour hire industry in contrast to the licensing approaches in Queensland and Victoria.

“Independent reviews have clearly identified industries where worker exploitation is more prevalent,” he said. “We agree with the taskforce that targeting resources at enforcement and regulation in those sectors will have the greatest impact on exploitation.”

Cameron did caution against unintended consequences of the law and said the government needs to work closely with industry to avoid that.

Australia’s industry group for vegetable and potato growers, AUSVEG, also welcomed the move.

“The horticulture industry relies heavily on labour hire to supply a workforce, and the majority of growers and labour-hire contractors do the right thing and look after their workers,” said AUSVEG National Public Affairs Manager Tyson Cattle. “The measures announced today will support our growers by making our entire sector a fairer, safer and more attractive workplace for migrant workers.”

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