ACCR’s Workers’ Rights program promotes decent work and a living wage. More than legal compliance, decent work is the provision of fair income, job security, safety at work, and the freedom for workers to raise concerns and have them dealt with in a timely and effective manner. With wage theft scandals rocking hospitality, retail and agricultural sectors, and numbers of fatalities in the mining sector, there is growing social and community pressure on companies – and by association investors – to ensure decent work.
The fissured workplace
One of the most profound changes in Australian workplaces over the last few decades has been the expansion of indirect forms of employment. Increasingly, the boundaries of a company’s workforce will stretch beyond its direct employees, to include labour hire workers, sub-contractors, service contractors, independent contractors, and even gig economy workers. This “fissuring” of workplaces has led to the stratification of working conditions and is a key factor in wage suppression and growing inequality. It has also introduced or increased a number of business and operational risks for companies that may have medium and long term impacts on company and shareholder value. ACCR is currently engaging companies and investors on their use of indirect employment.
Worker-driven social responsibility
Decades of research into workplace compliance initiatives in global supply chains has found that private compliance initiatives (PCIs), which may use mechanisms such as "codes of conduct, auditing, certification schemes or other self-reporting mechanisms", are insufficient to effectively manage business and operational risks from labour violations in supply chains. The only compliance initiatives that work are those which include a formal role for workers and their representatives (including trade unions) in compliance.
ACCR’s current focus is on lead companies in Australian horticulture and commercial cleaning supply chains.
Modern slavery encompasses a range exploitative practices, including human trafficking, compulsory labour, bonded labour, slavery, and forced marriage. These practices occur on a continuum of exploitation. Experts emphasise that instances of wage theft and excessive working hours can quickly deteriorate into modern slavery through threats and coercion. ACCR’s engagements with companies and investors highlight that any serious attempt to eradicate modern slavery must start with ensuring that basic minimum labour standards are being met.
As part of the global economic transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels, multiple industries across Australia will undergo major transformations. Careful planning and management, which closely involves workers and their representatives, is needed to ensure that decent working conditions are protected now and into the future. Companies must assess and disclose the workforce risks associated with the climate transition, and commit to upholding global best practice labour standards during any retention, retraining or redeployment of their workforces.