Submission on Labour Hire disappoints on OHS

cover of Ai_Group_LabourHireandInsecureWork__November 2015_Final2The public submission phase for the Victorian Government’s inquiry into labour hire and insecure work closed last week.  Public hearings have occurred this week and will continue in February 2016. One industry association, the Australian Industry Group has released its submission.  Its discussion  of occupational health and safety (OHS) of labour hire workers and suppliers is very disappointing.

Representing Members

The AiGroup says, in its submission that

“The interests of both groups [labour hire companies and users of labour hire], as well as the interests of the broader community, are best protected by ensuring that a competitive market is maintained for the provision of labour hire services, and that impediments to competition are removed.” (page 4)

It could be argued that the competitive market has allowed unscrupulous labour hire suppliers to succeed as they have been offering the cheapest labour.  These suppliers have succeeded, mostly, because there is a ready market for opportunities to maximise profit by reducing the legal rights of workers.  A competitive market may help fix the problem but it is also a problem that it helped create.

Currency of data

In one section of the submission the AiGroup quotes research that it commissioned about ” the changing nature of employment in five industries – one of which was labour hire.” (page 12) Positive experiences of working in casual labour are quoted but the information is over 14 years old and fails to address the recent issues that have spurred the government to instigate this inquiry.

Missing the point

On the section in the submission specifically addressing Work health and safety issues, AiGroup is very general in its statements:

“Sophisticated labour hire companies are well-placed to provide support and assistance to smaller organisations into which they place their workers….”

“The best cooperative systems effectively work together to ensure that all issues are addressed…”

“Labour hire arrangements should not, in themselves, reduce the safety of workers.” (page 22)

This blog supports looking at safety differently and acknowledging what works rather than what fails but the Victorian inquiry has been established as a result of failures.  The media statement of the Industrial Relations Minister, Natalie Hutchins, announcing the head of the inquiry stated that the inquiry

“… will investigate the practices of rogue labour hire companies, insecure work, sham contracting and the abuse of visas to avoid workplace laws and undermine minimum employment standards.”

On OHS, the AiGroup seems to ignore the evidence presented by academic researchers in the area of labour hire, precarious work and insecure work.  The submission states:

“There is a misguided view that labour hire workers are more vulnerable to safety risks.” (page 22)

In a submission to the 2010-11 Inquiry into Sham Contracting in the Building and Construction Industry Dr Elsa Underhill stated:

“Labour hire workers’ injuries are more severe, in part, because they are reluctant to report minor injuries for fear of job loss. They work with injuries, often until they are unable to work at all. Once they have lodged a workers’ compensation claim, they are more likely to be dismissed than direct hire employees. Hosts are unwilling to take back labour hire workers on light or modified duties; and labour hire employers advise workers that no placements are available, effectively dismissing them because they have or have been injured.” (page 3)

The AiGroup may be correct about risk likelihood but of those injured at work, the injuries are more severe and the number of work-related injuries are likely to be under-reported as workers are fearful to report due to the nature of the work relationship.  Underhill, Michael Quinlan and others would argue that the structure of labour hire adds complexity to the OHS relationship.  It seems that the aims of the current Victorian Labour Hire Inquiry has been to look at that structure.

The AiGroup did itself no favours for completing the rest of the OHS chapter with a discussion of the Work Health and Safety laws that do not apply in Victoria or by quoting WHS case-law from other Australian States.

The submission from the Australian Industry Group is very disappointing in its discussion of the workplace safety needs of insecure workers in Victoria.  The industry association was well-placed to provide stories from its members on labour hire successes and failures but seems to have included a discussion on OHS because it felt it needed to it rather than giving the issue serious consideration.

The AiGroup has been influential in industrial relations and OHS policy development in the past and has achieved many positive outcomes for its members and for workers generally.  We can only hope that other submissions to this inquiry bring better suggestions.

Kevin Jones




2 thoughts on “Submission on Labour Hire disappoints on OHS”

  1. Well, we are in between Xmas and New Years & I’m catching up on some important reading pushed aside through the year due to other “more important” issues!

    Reading this blog, I could not help but personally relate to the issues of labour hire workers as I myself are one. I have worked as hired labour since Nov 2014 for a local company and in that time have met many other workers at different work sites from other labour hire companies in my area.

    Working now as an WHS Advisor in the construction industry and directly involved in developing and providing site inductions, it is easy to discuss general work conditions & safety issues with these workers and uncover their personal thoughts in a non-confrontational setting. I have achieved this via: open and frank discussion with these guy’s (& girls) in the “class room” setting of an induction as well as ducking out for a quick smoke (in the designated area) where they gather and usually, the defenses are down and discussion flows more freely.

    Without question, the main link in these discussions is the unwillingness (or inability?) of the parent labour hire(LH) company to provide even “basic” OHS training or practical advise prior to sending a worker to a construction (or any other!) site. I have lost count of the number of times new LH workers have arrived (often late as they where not even given specific directions on how to find the site!) without even the correct minimum PPE! I provided our contractors & sub-contractors with a minimum PPE requirement list to email to all LH companies and even after receiving this information I would find that it was not passed on, with workers not having a clue that there attire or basic equipment was inadequate. More than once on this site, workers were told to go back to their LH company and have them provide the correct gear before commencing (a site rule). Unfortunately (on several occasions), these workers did not even return to site but were “replaced” because the LH company had suddenly found them “other more suitable work” and provided an alternative worker with the possible true story of the LH company refusing to provide even the basic PPE will never be known.

    More often than not tho, most of these workers had little or no previous work experience on a major construction site, little if any training (apart from filling in the basic and usually inadequate forms some companies provided) and ALL were highly unlikely to report even a small injury for fear of not only loosing this current role if they did, but of ever getting work again from the LH company that contracted them to the site. Many horror stories were told of “mates” or “colleagues” that reported an injury or went on “Works Comp” after having a more serious one and were never seen on site again.

    Having seen LH practices from the inside now, I can only hope that legislation will be provided to get rid of the shonky companies that rely on the “numbers game” of providing labour hire workers to industry. There seems to be a prevalence of companies without due care for the individuals themselves who just provide labour (mostly) without any preparation for the roles they are being asked to undertake when they arrive (usually via: a late night email or phone call at a moments notice) which could be somewhere vastly different from any previous experience they may have had in the past.

  2. The submission reads more like a glossed up politiucal PR exercise- big on gloss short on detail and mnuts and bolts. Your comments about what happens when someone in that field is brave enough to actually report an injury, resonate and will continue to do do when teh gloss of this submission has been cosnigned to ashes

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