Working Life

‘We feel like second class citizens,’ workers tell labour hire investigation


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We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
By the Working Life Team

Tuesday, 01 March 2016

NEXT time you stock your fridges with well-known brands such as Vegemite, Big M Milk, Yoplait Yoghurt or Latina Pasta, you might feel you are doing your bit to support local jobs and industries.

Think again.

The National Union of Workers (NUW) warns many of us are being duped, and don’t realise our spending does not fund decent local jobs.

“Your grocery shop is more likely to be fattening the profits of big companies like General Mills, Mondelez and Lion,” NUW industrial officer, Adam Portelli, told Working Life.

And it’s not just grocery stores — Unions are furious a growing number of workers aren’t hired directly,  but get taken on through large employment agencies such as Skilled.

“These companies contract out their employee responsibilities,” said Mr Portelli (pictured)


Now, unions and workers are acting to fight this trend by putting their case to a number of official investigations into casual labour hire across a range of industries.

The first of these, the Victorian Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure Work concludes today.

“The Victorian government has given us a great opportunity to make sure no worker has to live with job insecurity,” said Mr Portelli.

Over 600 submissions were put forward to the investigation and they document the real life human story of workers under duress.

One typical comment from the Queensland town of Morambah states: “The stress/worry is the fact that your job is so insecure, plus your pay is less than two thirds of the people you work with (permanents) it does make you feel like a second class citizen….
We work the same hours and do exactly the same job so why are we treated so differently?.”

Now, similar investigations are set to take place in other states including South Australia and Queensland.

This is a chance to put a stop to the exploitation of hard working people by greedy companies unions say.

“These organisations get to make big decisions about workers’ lives and offer no job security, Mr Portelli warned

“Often they underpay or cheat people out of their hard earned wages and fair employment conditions.”

Unions are demanding change for a system where corporate Australia reaps the profits, but avoids responsibility.

And official statistics show at least 40 per cent of our workforce is in insecure work.
“That means nearly half the workforce can’t plan their lives with any certainty,” said Mr Portelli.

“This is happening not just in the food supply chain, but in teaching, healthcare, construction and transport.”

Even union membership can’t protect these vulnerable workers.

“We’ve had cases where union delegates who happen to be labour-hire workers, are told by the company to leave the bargaining room when it was time to negotiate an agreement.”

To put your case to inquiry in your state see

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. Ray Gorman
    Wednesday, 2 March, 2016 at 8:38 am · Reply

    The work being done to turn the tide is great and I hope that more unions get involved and follow the example of the NUW.

  2. wend
    Friday, 4 March, 2016 at 6:16 pm · Reply

    I wonder how much of this is happening due to 457 visas and many from overseas prepared to take Any job or contract at Any price just to stay to become permanent residents

  3. andsoitgoes
    Friday, 4 March, 2016 at 7:14 pm · Reply

    I wouldn’t be surprised it these, ‘labor hire business,’ aren’t connected to the employment agencies, just a sub-branch, yep I wouldn’t be at all surprised. All hand in glove, and owned by a select few. I have no time for these; job-seeker/employment agencies,-nobody does anything unless it benefits them, and who works for love and NO Pay parading as, ‘helping unemployed, and UNDEREMPLOYED, people get into a paid job, rubbish, these businesses NEED, as many people to be unemployed, as this is how they make their, money, if are large percentage of the population was indeed, ‘gainfully employed,’ there wouldn’t be the, saturation of these job-search agencies/labour hire, as there is now these business-setting-up shop all over the place, here-there-and-everywhere, littering Australia, it’s a licence to print money these business are. The most precious resource is ‘people,’ and the most precious commodity is, ‘water,’and they are both being traded, everyday. The catch phrase of Howard, well make people work ready, it’s a hollow phrase, it actually means, the people will be channelled into, piffle cert 1,2.3 certificates,-that aren’t worth the paper they are written, why, simple, because, there is a glut of cert, 1,2,3 etc, people (hundreds of them), all vying for the same very, SMALL, percentage of actual jobs out there, so the certificate has no, viable-trade-dollar value. So Howards, phrase, is this, we’ll, make hundreds of people work ready, but no, HUNDREDS, of jobs of any permanency for them to be employed into-just insert, the casual status, then they’ll think they have secured a job only to find,it’s never going to become permanent, or more than 25hrs/perwk, just keep them hoping, by, dangling the carrot of ‘could turn into full-time, in the ole job advert, they’ll never catch on. But at the same time. set-up these rubbish, colleges, for this and that Cert, and job-search agencies and labor hire, companies, to make some easy money, all the while, the unemployed and underemployed people, are, just going round and round the mouse wheel, getting nowhere, just like it was designed. Then to put the cherry on the cake, well, have the handy TPP, agreement, and bring in all-and-sundry, from overseas, 457, and throw the citizen of the country out of jobs, homes, and off their farming land, too easy mate. All just to ensure, the money stays where is began, in the pockets of the ‘select few,’ we’ll push, Investment property as the new, gambling/income earner, and push people into renting, nothing like a-little displacement, to keep them all inline. Yep, all sown up. People used to be trained on the job, especially apprenticeships, they were called Indenture qualified people, but thats been thrown out the window, nearly all the manufacturing business, have vanished or gone off-shore. Australia is one big retail shop, and investment real estate, gambling paradise. Only problem is with model is the poverty and disparity, has to (by logical definition), move up the ladder, has to, poverty is like a virus, goes every and can be caught by anyone, what that song?, ‘…..nice work if you can it..

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