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Why professionalism and collaboration matters in labour hire

Historically there has been some tension and mistrust between regulators, unions, employers and the labour hire sector. Some of this is deserved while much of it is not.

In New Zealand in 2010 a natural disaster set the scene for what could well become a template for a collaborative approach between these parties.

New Zealand’s temporary staffing sector is expected to grow strongly over the next five years accounting for a combined revenue of $2 billion and employing 40,600 staff in the last year, according to a report by industry researcher IbisWorld released in September 2018.

The Ibis report definition of temporary staffing services is: “Industry operators primarily provide casual, short-term and other temporary staffing solutions on a contract or fee basis. Although temporary staff service firms provide staff to client businesses, the workers remain legally employed by the temporary staff provider”.

The report states that revenue and the size of this employment sector will continue to grow in New Zealand into 2023 as demand for temporary staff from downstream markets including the construction, healthcare and education sectors is expected to remain strong.

Given this, I believe it is very easy to see why the need for collaboration between the labour hire sector, government, regulators, unions and businesses is so important.

Working together will see us achieve more than a combative approach, and given the changes to our sector and our evolving partnerships with these groups since the 2010 Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes, we have seen enormous progress made.

Regulators recognised that we were in pretty unique and unchartered territory after the earthquakes where we were able to connect with opportunities and support we had never before experienced as we worked together to rebuild the city.

In Christchurch, senior industry leaders started working on a collaborative project with the Labour Inspectorate (LI). The partnership had a shaky start with somewhat mistrustful meetings between the employment sector and the LI.

However, when it became clear we were all working towards a common goal, we were able to make progress with the meetings providing the conduit for feedback about issues our industry needs to be aware of including non-compliance. They have also provided a platform for us to give feedback and know this is being listened to.

Without necessarily even understanding the significance of what we were undertaking, a new era of engagement and mutual understanding was entered into between our industry and the various regulators.

Some of the legacy relationship outcomes have been the greater interaction we now enjoy with Immigration NZ, ACC, IRD and particularly relevant today, and of genuine benefit to our industry, has been the ongoing development of the relationship between the Labour Inspectorate in Christchurch and the RCSA.

We now feel confident in reporting bad practice and non-compliance within our sector knowing appropriate action will follow, whether that be in terms of corrective behaviours or prosecution, and that this won’t end up tarring our whole industry.

The willingness to work collaboratively that began with that emotionally charged meeting between various regulators and leaders from within our industry eight years ago now, has resulted in almost a complete change of approach.

Rather than doing everything possible not to have any contact with the LI, RCSA now sees the LI as a genuine ally for our sector, with knowledge, skills and expertise that we can tap into without fear.

To put the work we do in the labour hire sector into perspective, worldwide agency work accounts for over 2% of the employment market. On average, before entering into agency work, 30% of workers are unemployed and we create opportunities for more than 70% of that group to remain in either agency or to get permanent employment.

We provide training and development opportunities and often open doors to people to work in industries they had never considered. Agencies recruit into every sector of the NZ workforce. In Christchurch alone it is estimated our sector paid around 15,000 temporary workers in 2015.

Nationally our sector partners with the Department of Corrections, the Auckland City Council Youth Charter, and Red Cross among others to assist people into work.

While legislation will continue to change and confront our sector - look no further than the Triangular Employment Amendment Bill - a mutual commitment to collaboration, respect and understanding is needed and we hope to ensure our members have the benefit of that.

Janice has been a sitting member of RCSA’s New Zealand Council for the last three years.

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