Hairdressers Registration (Amendment and Expiry) Bill 2010
Date:Tuesday, August 17, 2010
HON ALISON XAMON (East Metropolitan) [5.57 pm]: I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens (WA). We will not be supporting this legislation; a position that I understand is consistent with previous discussions around the future of hairdressing regulation. I understand that this is not a new issue and that it has been around for more than 20 years. I am aware that there has been considerable debate about the future of hairdressing regulation in this state; in particular whether Western Australia should continue with the Hairdressers Registration Board. I also understand that the Hairdressers Registration Act, which was formed in 1946, is well overdue for amendment; there is no disagreement about that from any sector. Certainly the hairdressing associations, hairdressers themselves and others whom I have spoken to are all of one mind in saying that there is an urgent need to look at the issue of regulation for hairdressers and to look at an upgrade of the act governing hairdressing. Having said that, I know that reviews have been conducted, discussion papers have been written and previous bills have come before this Parliament. I am disappointed that this bill is seeking to get rid of the lot—which is a fairly easy road to take—rather than perhaps following what the majority of industry members appear to want; that is, to review the legislation and to maintain some form of regulation of the hairdressing industry. As I said, this is not a new issue, but I am disappointed that we have come to the point of looking only at removing regulation in its entirety.
I received a letter today that I assume was not addressed to me only but was sent to all members of the Legislative Council. I therefore make the assumption that every member has received the same letter from the Master Ladies’ Hairdressers’ Industrial Union of Employers of WA.
Sitting suspended from 6.00 to 7.30 pm
Hon ALISON XAMON: Before the break I was drawing members’ attention to a letter that I received today, which I understand other members have also received, from the Master Ladies’ Hairdressers’ Industrial Union of Employers of WA. The letter has some pretty strong words in it and raises some very considerable concerns about what the union maintains is the lack of appropriate consultation between this government and some of the peak hairdressing bodies regarding the decision to fully deregulate the hairdressing industry. The letter states that the three peak industry bodies representing hairdressing in Western Australia—Master Ladies’ Hairdressers’ Industrial Union of Employers of WA, International Hairstylists Society, and Intercoiffure—have not been consulted about the full implications of deregulation. I have been made aware that when those organisations were consulted in previous years by previous governments, they consistently said that they did not want to go down the path of fully deregulating the industry but that they were looking very strongly at reforming the industry.
There was a suggestion that the hairdressing industry was split on the issue of whether it should be deregulated. I draw members’ attention to a report from December 2007 by Gerard Daniels titled “Training, Registration and Legislation: Survey and Analysis”. It is made clear on page 3 of that report that 84 per cent of hairdressers believe that registration is important from the industry’s perspective and that 61.7 per cent believe it is very important. As far as I am aware, this is the only clear data that indicates exactly where the industry stands on this issue. If other data is available, it can be drawn to my attention. It is clear that the decision to deregulate the industry is not supported by the industry itself, which is of great concern to me. The issue of deregulating the hairdressing industry has been around for more than two decades. I personally became aware of it just over 12 months ago when it was brought to my attention by my hairdresser, Steve Blanco. I give a shout out to him; he is a terrific guy. He raised his concerns with me and asked me whether I would look into it and contact the Hairdressers Registration Board of Western Australia on behalf of not only him, but also those in his salon. He was not a salon owner then, but he is now. At that time, he had responsibility for a number of hairdressers and apprentices under his supervision. He raised quite a few concerns, which have been echoed to me by people from the industry groups.
During the winter recess I, and I believe other members, was asked by the Master Ladies’ Hairdressers’ Industrial Union of Employers of WA to attend a public meeting it was holding in Nedlands. When I say “a public meeting”, it was a meeting that was open to all hairdressers to talk about the implications of deregulation. I went to that meeting, which was held at about 7.30 pm and was attended by about 100 people, most of whom were hairdressers. The depth of feeling in that room was quite considerable. People were not aware of who I was. Because I have such fabulous hair, when I walked in they all assumed that I was a hairdresser! I can understand why they made that mistake. I stayed at the meeting for an hour and listened to what the hairdressers had to say. It became very apparent that over the years there had been some concerns about the board and some of its operations. There were concerns also about the new hair industries such as African braiding, and I will get back to that in a moment. However, when it came to the crunch and people were presented with the option of having either all or nothing, they were absolutely adamant that they would rather have the existing regime, as flawed as they believed it was, than go down the path of deregulation. They were absolutely unequivocal about that; no-one spoke in opposition to it. I heard the hairdressers at the meeting trying to negotiate their way through the parliamentary process. They asked what it meant for the bill to be in the Legislative Council and what the second reading means. Some people were helping guide them through that process. I was concerned to hear about the level of rage and disempowerment they felt. They believed that it was quite easy for the government to target their industry because they are hardly unionised at all.
The last figure I heard was that just 26 out of the almost 10 000 hairdressers were members of a union. That is a reminder of why people should join a union. I am aware that a lot of them are very isolated. Most of them work in a business with just one, two or three people in the salon. Therefore, it is very difficult to get joint action. It was clear that when they got together, their voice was absolutely united. We saw an example of that last Tuesday when about 100 hairdressers were on the steps of Parliament and presented 3 500 letters of concern to give to the Minister for Commerce expressing their grave concern about this bill and going down the path of deregistration. That is quite a feat. As I said, these people are not used to working collectively and do not ordinarily engage in the political process in that way. It is indicative of the fact that they are not used to having to operate at this level that we did not see a public show from them until the situation got to this point. The legislation had already gone through the Legislative Assembly, yet they closed their salons and took time off. They are small business people and they came out in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, to stand on the steps of Parliament and ask the Parliament to reconsider this bill and the decision to go down the path of deregulation.
I am led to believe that neither the Premier nor the Minister for Commerce have met with representatives from the Master Ladies’ Hairdressers’ Industrial Union of Employers of WA. I think that that is very concerning, considering the implications of this bill. The association in its letter said that this was a most disgraceful example of a government not communicating with the industry and the small business employers that it purports to support and represent. Those are pretty harsh and damning words.
I return now to the concerns that were raised with me. Obviously, there is a lot of concern about the issue of consumer protection. People are concerned that by simply removing the Hairdressers Registration Board and all the protections it affords, the government is taking away a valuable service for consumers. The main concerns that I have heard expressed, particularly by hairdressers, are about having their expertise considerably undercut. Until now hairdressers in Western Australia have maintained the highest standards of hairdressing training in Australia. That has been really valuable to them because it is recognised nationally and internationally. For example, some Western Australian hairdressers may decide to go on a cruise ship to do hairdressing. Apparently that is quite an attractive option for a lot of hairdressers, particularly younger people who do not have children to look after. They like working on cruise ships because it is a bit of a working holiday, and Western Australian trained hairdressers are picked up like that, because it is recognised that we have the highest standards in Australia; people know Western Australian-trained hairdressers.
This is something that is really valuable to them, and they do not want to lose it. What they are really distressed about is that by going down the path of deregulation, the standards that they worked really hard for will be diminished. We have hairdressers who have trained for four years, and they are already upset enough that it has gone down to three years. The idea that they will now be competing with hairdressers coming into the industry who may have had as little as three months’ training is devastating for them. They feel that their industry is being decimated around their ears.
As I say, I am not suggesting for one second that there was not a need for reform. I am aware, for example, that there have been efforts by the Hairdressers Registration Board, even fairly recently, to try to make some amendments to the existing act around new areas of hairdressing that have come into this state; I am talking about things like African braiding. However, all its efforts to try to address this and to say, “We need more flexibility around the act and standards in terms of how we actually deal with different types of hairdressing,” have basically been obstructed. Instead, it has just been told that the government is going to get rid of the whole lot. I know that the board has been trying very hard for quite a while to make some changes to the Hairdressers Registration Act 1946. I know that it was trying to include different classes of hairdressing and that it wanted to alter the regime for inspections. It wanted to make sure that the fines were reflective of today’s rates. It wanted to have employers be approved by the board before apprenticeships were validated. It wanted to deal with provisions around salon owners, and it really needed to get the jurisdiction issues sorted out, because the way that the jurisdictions are currently defined in the act is a bit of an anachronism. It wanted to deal with wholesalers and suppliers and back fees, and it wanted a mechanism to deal with changes of details. It also wanted the State Administrative Tribunal to be able to conduct hearings. These are the things the board has been pushing for, but the government has consistently stood in its way.
I know that the abolition of the board might, in the view of the government, reduce red tape; that was one of the reasons given in the second reading speech for going down this path. However, the reality is that it is going to cost Western Australian taxpayers. This regime was funded by industry, and it is actually not that much money. Speaking as a lawyer and considering the sorts of fees that I had to pay to be registered as a lawyer, I can assure members that they are not even comparable. The reality is that hairdressers got certainty of standards from industry funding, and that is the price one pays for having registration. They did not want to lose that.
I note the comment made by Hon Ljiljanna Ravlich, who spoke before me, that the level of complaints about hairdressing is low. She referred to 34 complaints that had been made to the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection. I agree; that is a low figure. By the same token, over the same period of time, the Hairdressers Registration Board undertook 2 500 visits to hair salons. Maybe there is a direct correlation between the number of visits and that level of regulation, and the low number of complaints.
By removing the board we are basically looking to pick up all the expertise contained within that board—there is quite a high level of expertise—and simply transferring the cost to the taxpayer for hairdressers to be governed by the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection. I do not see how that is advantageous to us. It just means that we are going to be charging taxpayers for a regime that is less effective, instead of the industry funding its own regulation. I think that that is a move in the wrong direction if we want to ensure that the industry meets its own costs.
I am also concerned about the impact that abolishing the board will have on training and apprenticeships. Where is the incentive now for students to complete their apprenticeships if they are going to be competing against people who have trained for only three months? The industry is highly critical of the current institutional short course training delivery. It maintains that the graduates that are being produced are simply not workplace competent. Its concern is that these people are not competent to be performing hairdressing on consumers. The industry is very concerned that by going down this path, we will have semi-skilled graduates with substandard competency levels, which will reduce trade standards considerably. Hairdressers take quite a lot of pride in their expertise and their industry. They have achieved trade qualifications and they are really impressed with the current training processes. They have indicated that they think that even three years is not enough to train a hairdresser in the full range of competencies that are actually required, let alone three months. We also know that apprenticeship wages are already really low. The concern is that if we abolish the board, an apprentice who may have already done more than two years of study could conceivably end up working alongside someone from another state who has gained a certificate III qualification after as little as three or four months of training. The apprentice would get paid a fraction of the wage received by the co-worker. Where is the equity in that? In effect, that apprentice has received far more training than the interstate certificate III–qualified hairdresser.
I am also concerned that nothing will replace the important role that the Hairdressers Registration Board has played in the industry in the area of mediation and negotiation of consumer complaints. Effective dispute resolution is important for consumers and really important for the industry, and the board has played a very important role in enforcing standards and maintaining the integrity of the industry. I would like to know whether what is proposed will replace the role the board has played.
The board has also been really good at providing very specific industry advice and support, including advice on occupational safety and health matters. I have received a number of newsletters circulated by the hairdressers board, which are regularly displayed in salons and easily accessible, and they are very specific to issues that may arise for hairdressers. What is being proposed to replace those sorts of matters? If it is intended that the Department of Commerce will be producing newsletters, that will be done on the taxpayer’s buck, whereas it used to be funded by the industry.
Concern has been shown about the ongoing monitoring and/or licensing of hairdressers. There will be no way of ascertaining and checking whether people from overseas or interstate are qualified, and individual salon owners are unlikely to have the capacity or expertise to adequately check the qualifications of people applying to work in their salons who have gained hairdressing qualifications from interstate or overseas. Up until now, the board has taken on that role and has been able to assess the differing standards. It has been able to bring people in and determine whether they have those competencies and are fit to undertake hairdressing in this state. It has been put to me that that has not served as an impediment to qualified hairdressers, and there has been a regime whereby an interim licence can be provided for people to do hairdressing until such time as their competencies have been assessed and determined. In cases of people having been deemed not to be competent, yes, they have not been allowed to practise hairdressing. That, surely, is a good thing, because people should not be hairdressing unless they know what they are doing. I realise comments were made in the other place about it only being a week between a good and a bad haircut—nice! That is absolutely not true, and I notice that whenever it is said to women they look a little bit more concerned because we are not all out there getting buzz cuts.
Hon Robyn McSweeney: It’s at least three weeks!
Hon ALISON XAMON: Those of us who have had poor haircuts, or maybe a really dodgy 1980s perm, are aware that there is more to hairdressing than simply one week between cuts. Seriously, hairdressers deal with quite potent chemicals when colouring, straightening or perming hair, and that must be monitored quite closely. It is blasé to dismiss it as just being an issue of haircuts. In the past month or so I have received emails with quite a few photographs of horror stories, and I have heard horror stories from overseas and the like. I am not suggesting that that will be happen all over the place if we go down this path, but it highlights that this industry can potentially have negative implications if people are practising and using chemicals without adequate training.
I do not accept the argument that consumers will simply be able to determine who is a good hairdresser and who is not. At the moment we have the luxury, if members like—it appears to be a luxury but I would say that it should not be a luxury, it should be an accepted standard—of being able to walk into any hairdresser and expect there to be at least a basic level of competency and training.
Hon Ljiljanna Ravlich: And expect to come out beautiful!
Hon ALISON XAMON: And expect to come out beautiful!
Hon Ljiljanna Ravlich: And expect to come out blonde!
Hon ALISON XAMON: And, obviously, in my case that occurs on every occasion!
But there is a concern that we are losing that protection because we are losing that regime. To be honest, I have never thought to look at my hairdressers’ qualifications because I have never needed to. But now that is effectively what we are asking of people; we are asking people to go into a hairdresser and say, basically, “Show us your qualifications. Are you three-month trained; are you three-year trained; are you four-year trained; how long have you been doing this?” I do not think that consumers are trained to do that, or expect to have to do that. I think that consumers, particularly in Western Australia, have come to expect that there will be a minimum standard of hairdressing when they go into any salon, but we are going to remove that protection, which I think is very concerning.
In some ways hairdressers have been a bit of an easy target, not just because of the nature of the industry being largely “un-unionised”—I say “un-unionised” because I do not think it has ever really been unionised, so it has not been de-unionised—but also because it is disparate in its locations. Also the nature of the demographic is that hairdressers are largely women, and there is a fair degree of turnover with, apparently, people coming in and out of the industry around having children. It seems to me that it is actually picking them off in a pretty major way. This is the one trade that women dominate, and now they will lose that, and I do not think that that is a positive. I think this legislation takes a trade with a hard-earned qualification and minimum trade wages, all of which have been hard fought for by an industry dominated by women, and completely undermines everything that it stands for.
The term “hairdresser” has meant something in Western Australia, particularly for people working in the industry, and we are talking about a lot of people. There are over 10 000 registered hairdressers, and 1 600 apprentices are currently enrolled in training—it is considered to be one of the largest apprenticeship trades in Australia. It is very unfortunate that we have decided to go down this path contrary to what the industry wants.
I will talk a little about what the industry has told me it wants. It really wants the government to go back to the table on this one and not just pursue the path of deregulation. It wants to consider some sort of licensing or selfregulation regime, or something. I am aware that, apparently, last week the Premier commented on radio that he would be prepared, post the passage of this bill, to consider sitting down with industry leaders and talking about some self-regulation regime. I would be really interested to know whether the Minister for Commerce can shed any further light on that. I know that people from the industry are keen to hear what that actually means. We know that this could proceed in many different ways. I certainly hope, at the very least, that we can have some firm undertakings from this government that, should this bill be passed, it is prepared to sit down with the industry to talk about where to go from here to maintain some minimum standards, and not just say, “There you go, you’re all on your own now; don’t worry, the Department of Commerce will look after you and your industry.” They want more, they expect more and they are demanding more. Ultimately, the Greens (WA) are unable to support the lowering of hairdressing industry standards in Western Australia. That position is consistent with the position that we have taken on other bills in this place in the past fortnight. If we want to improve the regimes for professional industry standards, it is more important that the standards of other states are brought into line with the standards in Western Australia. We do not want to constantly diminish our improved standards by bringing WA’s standards down to the level of those of the other states. I understand that the push for this change has largely come from the Council of Australian Governments, but that push has gone in the wrong direction. It would have been much better if we had stood our ground and insisted that the other states raise their standards to match our standards rather than simply allowing our industry to be undermined. We do not want to undo all the good work that has been done in the hairdressing industry, which is utterly contrary to the wishes of those in the industry.
I urge members to support WA hairdressers and consumers and to not support this bill.
Discharge of Order and Referral to Standing Committee on Legislation — Motion
Hon ALISON XAMON: I move —
That the Hairdressers Registration (Amendment and Expiry) Bill 2010 be discharged from the notice paper and referred to the Standing Committee on Legislation.
By way of explanation, I argue that a considerable amount of discussion needs to occur with industry about the full implications of this legislation. I note that the standing orders that relate to the referral of such bills to the Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Statutes Review were suspended. I voted against that motion, but I was outnumbered. During the winter recess I have had further opportunity to hear from those in the industry. The concern is considerable and it would be well worth looking at the full implications of deregulation and of looking at other ways forward before we decide whether the bill should be passed.