Yarra Valley farmers could be hit hard by new labour hire licensing laws introduced at the end of the month, according to Evelyn MP Bridget Vallence.
The new laws, overseen by the State Government’s Labour Hire Authority, will require providers of labour hire services to hold a license from 30 October.
After this date, it will be illegal for hosts – such as farmers – to use providers that have had their license application declined.
Ms Vallence said the Labour Hire Authority has lagged behind processing applications, which could put local fruit and vegetable growers at risk as they head into a busy time of year.
“Crops do not stop growing or ripening while the Andrews Government’s Labour Hire Authority lags behind processing applications,” she said.
“The Government’s poor implementation of these new laws puts local fruit and vegetable farmers at risk of significant financial loss if crops cannot be picked, packed and delivered to market on time.”
Fruit and vegetable growers typically rely on seasonal labour, sourced through trusted providers of labour hire services, to ensure produce is harvested and delivered to market on time.
To obtain a license, providers need to pass a ‘fit and proper person test’ and show compliance with workplace laws, labour hire laws, minimum accommodation standards and report annually on their activities.
Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said the scheme is intended to protect vulnerable workers while cracking down on dodgy operators.
“This is one of the biggest changes to ever be implemented in the labour hire industry – a scheme that will protect workers and their right to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” he said.
“There’s been a strong response from businesses over the past six months as we implement the scheme and the Authority will continue to work progressively through applications.
“Any provider that has applied for a licence by 30 October can operate as usual.”
There will be a six-month transition period from 29 April in which providers can continue operating until a final decision on their application is made.
According to the Labour Hire Authority, that final decision covers appeal or review periods and decisions.
The Authority also claimed that during this transition period, hosts will have at least 28 days from the final decision to make arrangements with an alternative labour hire provider.
Ms Vallence said that so far 100 licenses have been approved leaving a backlog of over 1600 pending applications.
Because hosts cannot assign themselves to a provider, it’s expected that after the cutoff date they will need to search through the list of applications on the Labour Hire Authority’s website to ensure their provider’s license application has not been declined.
The Authority claimed it is building a function to help hosts and other interested persons list an interest in a provider.
Host employers that use unlicensed providers face a maximum fine of more than $500,000.
Ms Vallence said the State Government should introduce a grace period to protect farmers.
“Unless the Government’s Labour Hire Authority can streamline the current licencing process in less than two weeks before the new laws come into effect, a ‘grace period’ must be implemented to protect our local growers from unfair penalties.”
Ms Vallence has raised the issue in Parliament and called upon Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas to urgently address the concerns.