Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (15:48:57) — I am very proud to have the opportunity to speak on the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 and to follow on from the fantastic contribution from my friend the member for Buninyong. It is and always has been the Labor Party who stands up and fights for workers. It is and always has been the Labor Party who advances the rights, the protections and the safeguards of those who need them the most. I am very proud to be a unionist and proud to say that workers and their rights are always, each and every day, worth fighting for.

When our workers’ rights are improved, we as a society improve and our social fabric improves. The Liberals want to have a culture war and talk about what is un-Australian. I will tell you what is un-Australian: it is selling out workers, not putting workers and their families first and not supporting the workers that need support the most. It is un-Australian to know that workers are being exploited, they are being hurt, they are being bullied, they are being harassed. A number of members this afternoon have spoken about stories which have been highlighted through this inquiry. The Andrews Labor government refuses to do nothing. We will fight for workers today, tomorrow and every day after, because we know that a person’s working rights are fundamental for their health and for their happiness.

I did listen yesterday quite closely to a number of contributions, and I listened to the member for Ivanhoe, who spoke very well on the legislation. He spoke about our ability as individuals to forget about those that are exploited when we ourselves are not at that time being exploited. I thought that the member’s comments were absolutely spot on. If you work in an environment where you are safe, where you are protected, where you are supported and where you are happy, it is quite easy to disregard or forget about those workers who are doing it incredibly tough as a result of weak laws and as a result of really poor operators. I would ask each member in the house to imagine how they would feel if they were being exploited at work. If it was their son, their daughter, a member of their family or their friends, I have no doubt that all members would be in agreeance that they would be fighting for the conditions and the support for the individual that was subject to such exploitation. That is why this piece of legislation before the house this afternoon is so important.

Think about your first job. I know that I got mine at the age of 14 and nine months at IGA in Sunbury, of all places. I was nervous, I was wanting to do everything right, I did not want to upset the boss, I did not want the boss to fire up, get angry or yell at me — all the things that I think are natural emotions, all the things that we as employees are concerned about. I was incredibly fortunate that it was a supportive place to work, it was somewhere you were valued. I think if you put yourself in the position of not being valued, if you put yourself in the position of being fearful of that boss and, even more so, of being targeted and bullied by that employer, that must be an incredibly traumatic experience, and many experiences like this have been highlighted by other members through the process of this legislation and certainly through the inquiry. It is a position of power to be in an employer’s situation, and it is a position where often the employer will take advantage of that.

We as a society can and must be better than that. The measure of a fair society and the measure of a decent and kind society is how it treats its most vulnerable. There will always be disparity — always difference, always those that are more wealthy and those that are better off — but this does not have to remain a constant; this can be improved. Those who need support and those who need an equal chance should be a priority. They are a priority for the Andrews Labor government, a government of which I am incredibly proud to be a member. I hope that all members on this side of the house, all members supporting this legislation, will sleep better knowing that they are part of a team that is working hard to close the gap on those that are disadvantaged and working hard to put in place a range of safeguards and protections that provide help to those who need it most.

I mentioned the inquiry earlier on, and it was a significant piece of work. I do want to take this opportunity to thank Professor Anthony Forsyth and all of those that contributed to a fundamentally important inquiry. In total 695 written submissions were received; 604 of those were from individuals and the remaining 91 from organisations themselves. There were 113 public hearing sessions over 17 days both in metro and regional Victoria, and the inquiry heard from 221 individual witnesses during these sessions. Importantly, hearings were held in Mildura, Dandenong, Geelong, Melbourne, Shepparton, Melton, Ballarat and Morwell, so in a good cross-section of towns and regional cities right across Victoria. We know that this is a huge problem that cuts across each and every electorate, but in particular there are specific issues in regional Victoria.

Other members have mentioned the importance of what the scheme will do. The key features include universal coverage across the whole labour hire industry, management by an independent authority headed by a statutorily appointed commissioner, a requirement for labour hire providers to hold a licence, a requirement for hosts to use only a licensed provider, a range of regulations — which have been mentioned — and a requirement for licence applicants to provide information establishing that they are suitable to hold such a licence. We know that this will include a whole range of other factors, such as that key personnel are fit and proper persons and the establishment of compliance with workplace laws — all of those protections that I mentioned earlier in my contribution. We also know that this bill will provide strong and flexible information-gathering, inspection and compliance tools, and these are particularly important going forward in evaluating the compliance of those operators in managing staff.

If we look at who will require a licence, we see that a person providing labour hire services in the course of a business will be required to hold a licence. Labour hire services involve the supply of a worker to another person to do the work. Under the bill, to get a licence in the first place we know that providers and key personnel will need to show, as I previously mentioned, that they are both fit and proper persons.

It is very much the case that there are traumatic and highly concerning incidents that happen through work, and the public as a whole are not aware of them. People are powerless. In many cases they are afraid. They are not willing or able to come forward and report many of these issues or they do not have the capacity to do so. They are underpaid, they are overworked, they are bullied, they are threatened, they are harassed and they are marginalised. What was incredibly concerning throughout the inquiry was the number of people who were being forced to work in conditions that are un-Australian.

I go back to the point that I believe makes our society, our state and our nation so strong, which is the knowledge, the support and the laws around who we are and what we are able to be. What support is around us? What conditions do we experience at work? What are the things that you take home at the end of the day? Are you able to come home to your family and your friends with a smile on your face? Are you able to live a decent, happy and healthy life? These are the things that make our state great and our nation great. I commend the bill to the house.