National labour hire licensing is coming – and it’s good news for horticulture

By Rob Hayes, State Manager – National Harvest Labour Information Service, MADEC

A national labour hire licensing scheme for horticulture was announced by the Liberal party prior to their re-election. Now, with new Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie at the helm, growers need to ready themselves for a more robust labour hire licensing landscape.

As a large employer of harvest labour in all Australian states, MADEC looks forward to operating under a scheme that does not require separate applications for individual state licences, and that a more level playing field will exist for ethical labour hire providers.

A national scheme will also provide an opportunity for the industry to improve its reputation, and support growers who are doing, and want to do, the right thing by workers.

Addressing a real problem

Unfortunately, horticulture has seen past cases of exploitation and underpayment of workers, but licensing will help to establish better standards.

The announcements to introduce national schemes follow the release of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail Inquiry report and the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce report.

 

The Harvest Trail Inquiry report identified five key areas of concern regarding employment of harvest workers, namely:

  • widespread non-compliance among the employers investigated
  • misuse of piece rates
  • significant reliance by growers on overseas workers
  • that consumers can play a role in addressing exploitation
  • the negative impact where labour hire arrangements were illegally used.

The FWO was so concerned about the negative impacts of poor labour hire practices that they devoted an entire chapter of their report to it.

Building confidence and a level playing field

As one of Australia’s largest harvest worker employment and referral agencies, MADEC sees the introduction of labour hire licensing as a positive for the industry.

MADEC operates the National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS) for the Federal Government. It connects job seekers with growers via a website (Harvest Trail), call centre (1800 062 332) and harvest guide. MADEC also provides labour hire services.

Labour hire licensing will give growers and workers confidence that they are dealing with a labour hire provider that has been approved and audited by the responsible government authority.

There are concerns that labour hire licensing will lead to widespread shortages of workers as unscrupulous operators leave the industry. However, evidence from Queensland shows this did not occur after licensing was introduced there in June 2018. Growers, contractors and workers have adjusted well to the new Queensland scheme. Ongoing audits by the Queensland Labour Hire Licensing Authority have resulted in several contractors having their licences cancelled.

While the specific details of any national labour hire licensing arrangement are yet to be released, it is highly likely they will be similar to the requirements of the Queensland scheme. This includes meeting certain standards such as being a fit and proper person to supply labour, being financially viable, and complying with relevant laws. There will be penalties for operating without a licence or for using an unlicensed provider.

We are keen to work with industry to ensure there is a smooth introduction to national labour hire licensing.

MADEC is a not-for-profit agency and is a licensed labour hire provider in Queensland. We can help growers anywhere in Australia to find harvest workers. There is no charge to use the NHLIS service and all growers have to do is call one of our trained consultants on 1800 062 332.

About MADEC and the National Harvest Labour Information Service

The National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS) comprising a website (Harvest Trail), call centre and Harvest Guide helps connect growers with workers. It is a no-cost service that is funded through the Australian Government and managed by MADEC. MADEC is a community based, not-for-profit organisation that delivers employment, training and community development initiatives.

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