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Unions call for ACT to follow Queensland on stricter regulation of labour hire firms

UnionsACT says the ACT government must more strictly regulate the labour hire industry, amid claims of "rorting, exploitation and mistreatment".

As the Queensland government introduces a licensing scheme to weed out rogue operators, UnionsACT secretary Alex White said the ACT government did not not have sufficient safeguards to protect workers from "unscrupulous" labour hire companies despite shifting to a centralised contractor management system recently.

That shift prompted an outcry from local recruiters, who allegedly were not consulted about the new system and whose margins were significantly cut.

But Mr White said: "It is breath-taking for labour hire companies to be complaining about their profit margins being reduced with the ACT when the labour hire industry is responsible for some of the most severe exploitation of working people in Australia and Canberra.

"As numerous inquiries and investigations have found, labour hire as a system is used to avoid workplace rights and safety obligations. This is not a matter of 'bad apples', but is systematic and endemic within the labour hire industry."

Mr White claimed "disreputable labour hire companies" were used for ACT government work, despite UnionsACT and individual unions making directorate executives aware of the exploitation. 

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"UnionsACT is also aware that front-line roles within a number of directorates are filled using short-term labour hire positions, rather than offering people direct employment as part-time or casual staff. 

"It appears that the lack of a formal labour hire policy allows senior directorate executives to avoid the ACT Government's policy to promote secure, permanent and direct employment within the public service. 

"The labour hire industry must be properly regulated and licensed, and labour hire company operators must be required to undertake a fit-and-proper person test, to ensure they comply with the Fair Work and workplace safety laws."

The new licensing system Queensland would mean companies would have to report on their operations and pass a fit-and-proper-person test.

The laws would be introduced to the Queensland parliament this month and are expected to be up and running by next year.

Workplace relations minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT government was closely following the developments in other jurisdictions, including Queensland and Victoria.

"I have specifically asked the Work Safety Council to look at the implications of insecure work, including the labour hire industry, on workplace safety and injury management," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

"The Assembly's Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs is currently calling for submissions to its inquiry into the extent, nature and consequences of insecure work arrangements and employment practices in the ACT. I encourage all workers, unions and employers to engage with this process if they have experiences to share."

You can make a submission to the inquiry into insecure work in the ACT at: parliament.act.gov.au