Workers ‘significantly underpaid’

Unions and Gippsland workers employed on a casual basis through labour hire arrangements have told an inquiry the industry needs to be licensed to stamp out dodgy practices.

The Victorian Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure Work heard evidence from unions, workers and labour hire companies in Morwell this week.

It was the final stop for the inquiry, which has held hearings across Victoria since being set up by the State Government last year to investigate labour hire practices, insecure work, sham contracting and the abuse of visas to avoid workplace laws and undermine minimum employment standards.

Inquiry chair Professor Anthony Forsyth said the inquiry had heard evidence of workers being underpaid across the state, particularly in the food production and processing industries.

“We did hear instances of workers being significantly underpaid compared to award rates of pay… some workers being paid as low as $6 an hour,” Professor Forsyth said.

“Sometimes it would be more like around $12 or $14 an hour but the minimum award rate for that kind of work is about $17 an hour or $21 if it’s a casual, so really significant levels of underpayment which are troubling.”

Union submissions to the inquiry called for licensing of the labour hire industry to stop dodgy companies from operating.

“There may be a view that licensing could address that by making it more difficult for those kinds of operators to set up in the first place; it may just be another regulatory step that might address and rub out some of the operators who are less inclined to comply with the law,” Professor Forsyth said.

Gippsland workers told the inquiry about the problems associated with casual work through labour hire companies, including being overlooked for employment if they rejected shifts due to family commitments.

The inquiry also heard of workers’ reluctance to report injuries for fear of being overlooked for work.

With public hearings now finished, the inquiry is due to deliver its final report to the State Government by 31 July.