Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 05 Hansard (Tuesday, 8 May 2018) . . Page.. 1550 ..
This is what the ACT government should do: the ACT government should start its own labour hire licensing scheme. It should be stringent and it should get the job done. Labour hire firms should be run by fit and proper persons. They need to pay heed to their industrial instrument. They need to be registered with every relevant agency. They need to meet workplace health and safety legislation and ensure that their workers are looked after at host organisations. And they need to show that they have the capital to meet any liabilities arising from their operations—no more phoenixing; it is not on.
The ACT government should start a register of legal labour hire companies and it should be law that host organisations must use legal labour hire. Further to this, the ACT government should establish one statutory authority with responsibility for all ACT industrial relations matters. Too many bosses have discovered you can exploit vulnerable working people on visas by threatening their insecure employment. Let us fight back. The ACT government should step in as a sponsor of last resort for visa holders undergoing industrial disputes. Where charity collection workers are getting exploited, we should step up and license the industry.
And this is the big one: when working people have their wages stolen, that should be a crime. If a worker stole money from an employer or items from the stockroom, they would be sacked and possibly charged with a criminal offence. That is a big punishment. On the other hand if a boss underpays workers or does not pay them super, the consequences for them are far less—that is, likely a fine. Wage theft is so widespread it has become the default business model across a wide range of industries. Wage theft is more common in certain industries, particularly hospitality and often farm work. Recent, high-profile wage theft cases have brought much-needed attention to the issue. The rampant exploitation of 7-Eleven workers was one such example. The 7-Eleven scandal showed that wage theft was not a one-off; it was the entire business model.
A recent report has shown that one in 10 workers in Australia rarely or never receive the minimum wage from their employer. That is more than one million people being systemically underpaid. A further 43 per cent of Australians report being underpaid at some stage of their working life. With such rampant exploitation, it is clear that the current rules are broken. Wage theft should be a criminal offence with real penalties. It is within the powers of the Assembly—let us do it.
The ACT government should extend portable long service leave arrangements to other industries suffering from insecure work practices. And if the federal government will not sign important parts of the ILO, the ACT government should amend the Human Rights Act 2004 to explicitly include rights relating to industrial relations.
Kids in school, immigrants and international students should know their rights before they enter the workforce. Let us be proactive in our education programs. Do you know what, Madam Assistant Speaker? The ACT government should be a community leader: they should stop using labour hire; they should stop using multiple non-ongoing short-term contracts; they should employ people directly.