UnionsACT Statement to ‘Secure Local Jobs Bill’ Assembly Inquiry

The following statement was made on 12 September 2018 by UnionsACT Secretary, Alex White, to the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Tourism’s Inquiry into Government Procurement (Secure Local Jobs) Amendment Bill 2018.

UnionsACT is the peak council for the ACT’s union movement, representing 24 unions and over 33,000 union members.

Many tens of thousands more have their conditions of employment shaped by the work and representation performed by our affiliates.

UnionsACT supports the proposed Secure Local Jobs Bill and the Code.

UnionsACT has a long-held view that the ACT Government procurement policy must be used to advance a progressive, pro-worker social and economic agenda, entrench good conditions, safe workplaces and high wages, and promote local industry capabilities, skills, secure jobs and sustainable economic growth.

We are proud of the Memorandum of Understanding between UnionsACT and the ACT Government on Procurement, first signed by my predecessor and Chief Minister Stanhope over a decade ago.

This MOU is responsible for the current procurement system, including the prequalification system, IRE Certificates, and active certification.

Unfortunately, despite the MOU, the ACT Government has demonstrated that it is not currently capable of managing outsourced contracts, whether large or small, to adequately prevent labour rights abuses and unlawful workplace practices by its contractors.

We have found widespread incidents of wage-theft, unsafe work practices and bullying & harassment with many contractors of the ACT Government.

This includes cleaning companies, medical services companies, waste disposal, security, maintenance, construction, traffic control, event management, labour hire and more.

Affiliates of UnionsACT, including the CFMEU and United Voice will be able to give more specific information about these cases.

For this reason, we believe that the MOU, while having an overall positive impact on workers’ rights and safety, is no longer fit for purpose, and has not been sufficient to stop companies intent on callously exploiting workers or putting them at risk of injury.

UnionsACT believes that the Government should require more than mere compliance with legal minimums by contracting companies.

Canberrans rightly expect that when a company seeks the privilege of tendering and winning a contract with the ACT Government, and receiving taxpayer money, that contractor should be held to the highest ethical labour standards and safety standards.

We believe this Bill and the proposed Code will ensure future procurement contracts are awarded to ethical contractors that invest in local job creation and obey Fair Work and WHS laws.

Companies that avoid those obligations and commit wage theft or put workers at risk of injury should not expect to win lucrative government contracts.

We reject the misinformation published by the business lobby, including the Business Chamber and MBA regarding the Bill and Code.

These lobby groups represent the largest, richest and most powerful corporations and construction companies in Canberra, so it is not surprising they oppose new measures that will increase job security and improve opportunities for local job creation.

The Local Jobs Code will increase red tape The Code simply requires businesses to obey existing laws, like safety laws and anti-discrimination laws.
The Local Jobs Code will drive up cost of infrastructure and services The only way cost of infrastructure or services could increase is if the business was underpaying workers, or not paying an obligation such as workers compensation.

The audit regime is similar to the existing IRE active certification audits, so auditing costs under the Code would only increase if a company were not complying with the law.

The Local Jobs Code will conflict with Federal legislation It is impossible for ACT laws to conflict with Federal legislation, because Federal laws overrule ACT laws.

Furthermore, I have read the business lobby groups’ submissions, and not a single specific example of a conflict, as opposed to a general unspecified concern, has been provided.

The Local Jobs Code will give unions access to work sites and records The Fair Work Act and WHS Act already grants union officials access to worksites and records.
The Local Jobs Code will decrease competition for local small businesses The Code will actually improve opportunities for local businesses, who will be able to compete on the same level playing field as big business.

Companies that currently obey industrial and safety laws will no longer be undercut by dodgy contractors

The misinformation spread by the big business lobby benefits only those corporations who fail, time and time again, to obey workplace laws

Fundamentally, the evidence shows that a significant and growing number of businesses are choosing to disregard laws protecting workers’ rights and safety.

As has been demonstrated repeatedly in recent years, many businesses have incorporated wage-theft and non-compliance with safety laws into their business model.

Existing regulators, Federally and in the ACT, are under-resourced or unwilling to actively ensure compliance, and the business community knows it.

This is happening in a context where employers are increasingly “rolling the dice” and taking a calculated risk that they won’t be caught, or if they are, few consequences for the employer will arise.

I will finish my remarks by re-emphasising: Local businesses that do the right thing, invest in skills and employ local Canberrans should be preferred over dodgy contractors who steal wages and put workers at risk of injury.