​Industry execs attack vulnerable workers bill


​Industry execs attack vulnerable workers bill

Industry executives have condemned the Fair Work (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 just hours after it was introduced into Parliament.


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Industry executives have condemned the Fair Work (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 just hours after it was introduced into Parliament.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) described the bill as “draconian” while the Franchise Council of Australia (FCA) complained it “targets only franchising”. 

The NFF argued that the bill, if passed, would strip away the right to silence and introduce very heavy penalties “for admin errors”.

CEO Tony Mahar said several amendments were needed before the bill could be deemed equitable.

He said the NFF could not support a general doubling of penalties for record keeping and payslip errors “which are common given Australia’s complex workplace laws. Nor will we support plans to make holding companies generally liable for the actions of their subsidiaries”.

Mr Mahar was also worried about the new coercive powers of the Fair work Ombudsman which, he argued, would deny individuals the right to silence.

“They would apply to almost every employer and every worker and [would]… drive up legal costs in every workplace in Australia,” he said.

FCA welcomes protections

Meanwhile, the FCA welcomed Canberra’s intent to improve protections for vulnerable workers and the boost to the resources and powers of the Ombudsman.

However, it argued that no-one in the franchising community wanted to see an employee underpaid or knowingly taken advantage of, and asserted there was no justification for targeting franchising.

It argued there was significant uncertainty and harm in the “joint employer” provisions of the bill that, in the words of the FCA, “are in laws nowhere else in the world”. It added that the concept of “control” must relate to workplace relations if the aim is to impose “joint employer” liabilities onto franchisors for the workplace non-compliance of franchisees.

The FCA added that it will work to change the bill to:
  • right-size the law to take into account the diverse and small business nature of franchises
  • introduce the concept of “substantial control” over workplace relations being the threshold for liability
  • require courts and regulators to take account of a system’s size and resources
  • clarify what ‘reasonable steps’ actually means
  • focus on underpayments and not on paperwork and technical judgements, and
  • provide for an approved compliance program as a defence against prosecution.

Australians 'appalled' at wages fraud

Meanwhile, yesterday afternoon, the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, came out for the government in a combative mood. She expressed how “appalled” all decent Australians would have been when they learned of widespread wages fraud.

“Last year, all decent Australians would have been appalled at video footage of young 7-Eleven workers being led to an ATM and forced to hand back part of their wages in cash,” Minister Cash said.

“We’ve also been appalled at recent revelations of systematic underpayment of employees by some franchisees of well-known pizza chains.

“While this does not represent the vast majority of Australian business owners who work hard, follow the rules, create jobs and provide the backbone of our economy, such cases have shown existing laws lack teeth and need to be strengthened.

“A strong employment system requires all parties to abide by fair rules. Importantly, this legislation is targeted at those who deliberately set out to do the wrong thing. The new increased penalties and liability provisions will not impact the vast majority of employers who do the right thing, or who simply make honest mistakes.

“When someone abuses their power – whether it is union bosses intimidating small businesses or dodgy employers exploiting vulnerable workers – the Turnbull government will take action,” Minister Cash said.

“This is important for our economy and also the principle of a fair-go for all.”

Introduction of the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 into Parliament was driven by media exposure of widespread and systemic wages fraud committed by employers, particularly franchises, against their employees.

For a comprehensive overview and analysis on this subject see WorkplaceInfo’s article: Franchisor strikes deal with FWO after $3.5m wage rort exposed.
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