Ensuring fair and compliant workplaces

ACAPMA says the issue of wage underpayment has not gone away, with CEO Mark McKenzie last week attending a major forum to discuss the problem in Australian workplaces.

Council of Small Business Australia (COSBOA) convened the forum, with ACAPMA joining other peak bodies attending, such as the Pharmacy Guild and Australian Lottery & Newsagents Federation.

Also attending were representatives of the Australian Government, the federal Opposition, the Australian Fair Work Commission and the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman, along with Allan Fels (Chair of the Migrant Worker Taskforce), Bruce Billson (President of the Franchise Council of Australia) and Kate Carnell (Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

As ACAPMA has previously reported, the Government established two multi-agency taskforces during 2016 to improve its capacity to detect wage underpayment and investigate issues associated with the exploitation of migrant workers in Australian workplaces.

But the issue of wage underpayment remains, it says.

The Government is considering new laws that ACAPMA says will potentially have a marked impact on the future operation of franchisor and franchisee relationships in many industries – including the petrol-and-convenience industry. Key among these changes, it says, is a new piece of legislation introduced to parliament last month – the Protecting Vulnerable Workers Bill (2017).

In a move that ACAPMA says threatens the integrity of franchise operation in Australia, this bill proposes to make franchisors liable for breaches of employment law by their franchisees.

In effect, Mr McKenzie says, these proposed laws let franchisees “off the hook” when it comes to wage compliance in the future.

“These laws break new ground and, if introduced in their current form, will potentially have far-reaching negative impacts on the future operation of franchise agreements in several industries – including our own,” he said.

Over the past 12 months, ACAPMA has been working with COSBOA and other peak bodies to “ward of such black-letter legislation” by proposing alternative and non-regulatory responses that do not create unintended negative consequences for market participants.

“The new laws to be effected under the proposed ‘vulnerable workers bill’ will likely have a negative impact on a very large portion of our industry – even though the clear majority of businesses in our industry are doing the right thing,” Mr McKenzie said.

“We believe it would be more prudent for the Australian Government to increase the enforcement resources of existing regulatory agencies – such as the Fair Work Ombudsman – and provide affected industries with the time to demonstrate that they can get their own houses in order, before considering such drastic laws.”

ACAPMA has already sought to demonstrate how the industry can resolve the issue without the need for legislation, by providing a new service to its members.

“This new service – the Compliance Partner Program – is an extension of our employment and IR assistance and provides businesses with the opportunity to get a ‘health check’ of their current wage practices,” Mr McKenzie said.

“Our intent is to provide business owners with peace of mind with respect to compliance with award pay rates and conditions – much of which is complicated and daunting to most business owners.”

The results of the ‘health check’ remain wholly confidential between ACAPMA and the member business.

“Where problems are observed, ACAPMA provides guidance on how these problems might be quickly addressed within existing commercial constraints,” Mr McKenzie said.

“Anyone in the petrol-convenience industry that believes the issue of wage underpayment has simply ‘gone away’ is kidding themselves.

“Unless we can demonstrate that we collectively have the capacity to address these issues voluntarily, our industry is likely to face new laws that will potentially have substantial negative impacts on the future commercial arrangements used by many of the dealer businesses that comprise our industry.”

ACAPMA says it is working with COSBOA and other peak industry bodies to demonstrate leadership on this issue and urge the Government to work cooperatively with affected industries to resolve the wage-underpayment issues.

“We are keen to ensure that the government does not introduce new laws to address wage-underpayment issues that effectively undermine the integrity of franchise and agency agreements in the future,” Mr McKenzie said.

The new draft laws have been referred to a Senate Committee for Review, which will report back to the federal parliament by May 9.

In the meantime, ACAPMA says it will continue to lobby the Government to pursue non-legislative alternatives by working cooperatively with affected industries and their peak bodies.

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