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‘We’ll only do what we’re made to do!’ says bank’s legal counsel

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Around 8 years ago, we (ICA) were approaching the banks about supporting the introduction of unfair contract laws for small business people. One of the big bank’s chief legal counsel said to us “We’ll only do what we’re made to do!” What a sad attitude. But, unfortunately, in our dealings with many at the ‘big end of town’, that’s our experience with them.

Unfair contract protections
It took us ten years of hard advocacy, but late last year the small business unfair contract laws took effect. Now the change is happening. In The Australian yesterday Robert Gottliebsen detailed how the ACCC has forced Sensis to fix unfair contract clauses. Sensis had concealed clauses that renewed contracts without the small businessperson agreeing. Sensis could cancel contracts but the small businessperson could not. Sensis has agreed to make refunds.

Vulnerable Workers Bill
Yesterday we released our detailed analysis of core clauses in the Vulnerable Workers Bill. Again, the big end of town—this time the Franchise Council of Australia—wants to ‘kill the bill’.  Our view is that the FCA is trying to exclude franchisors from being responsible. We strongly support the Bill and we’re asking Senators to vote for it with the current wording.

Yesterday in the Australian Financial Review, Adele Ferguson detailed the legal case being conducted by bankrupt Pizza Hut franchisees against Pizza Hut. The claim is that Pizza Hut required the franchisees to conduct a price war that resulted in the franchisees going broke. The case highlights how franchisor behaviour can create franchisee disaster.  

The Vulnerable Workers Bill is about preventing underpayment of franchise workers. But the structure of the Bill is really about the 1,100 franchisors exercising their proper responsibilities towards their 79,000 small business franchisees.

Pay on time!

We’re pleased to see the campaign being conducted by the Federal Small Business Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, to get big businesses to pay small businesses on time. She’s calling for legislation and has given the example of New York’s ‘pay on time laws’ as a model. We agree with Kate that legislation is needed. Our experience is that big business will use voluntary codes to appear to do something, but in reality do nothing.


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