representing building managment, cleaning and security staff

Designing a Modern ABN System

ABN Reform – Essential for a Strong, Fair and Successful Cleaning Industry

The clear feeling among many members of the BSCAA is that the current ABN system is broken. It’s for good reason. One of the big frustrations has been the number of cleaning operators seeking to game or cheat the system when it comes to hiring and employment practices.

However, change for the better is happening. We believe the ABN system can be saved and improved, and the ABN reforms put forward by the government make excellent progress towards this.

There’s no doubt that change needs to happen. That’s why we’re actively working with the ABN change authority to make sure that a modern ABN system is put in place that dissuades those seeking to game the system, without unduly disrupting the majority of operators who seek to do the right thing by their employees and the industry as a whole.   

What’s the problem?

The Commonwealth Government’s Black Economy Taskforce Report was an eye-opener and the evidence was startling. It really reflected badly on the industry with repeated references to the exploitation of cleaners and non-compliance when it comes to general employment practices.  

As an association, we’ve long encouraged and advocated for compliance with staffing best practices, but the message just doesn’t seem to be getting through to some operators. Practices such as engaging cleaners on individual ABNs; as well the practices of phoenix operations and sham contracting still persist despite our counseling and objections.

Equally frustrating is that the current ABN system allows these abuses to occur. That’s why these proposed changes to the system have our full backing. We have no doubt that these reforms will help raise the standard and standing of the cleaning industry as a whole.

What’s being proposed?

To help combat these abuses, the government is proposing four changes to the ABN system. In a nutshell, these changes include: Changing the rules around applying for an ABN to make them more strict and/or increasing the checks required for an ABN to be granted; introducing conditions that could see the ABN cancelled if they are not met; requiring an ABN to be displayed or verified when a payment it being processed and other digital reforms; and requiring ABNs to be renewed and a new fee structure around that.

The BSCAA perspective

Strengthening the ABN entitlement rules and the introduction of more stringent checks gets a big tick from us, particularly when it comes to the separation between what’s classified as employment and being an independent contractor. Improving the process of vetting ABN applications is also a welcome reform.

The reform enabling the cancellation of ABNs for non-compliance has the potential to become a useful deterrent against shady operators, and for that reason we certainly think it will be a valuable tool.

At the BSCAA, we believe that enabling a process of validation prior to payment will achieve a great deal when it comes to strengthening the ABN system and restricting or eliminating the black economy in the cleaning industry. A simple automated process of pre-payment validation will be an important step forward. The current system where ABNs are displayed on letterheads, websites, etc. is fine, though we think the system could be improved by clarifying exactly where and when an ABN has to be declared.

It might surprise you that the BSCAA is in favor of the introduction of ABN fees. The reason is that we believe the addition of a fee will increase the perceived value of holding an ABN. Likewise, it will be something of a deterrent to any potential operator in the industry that might seek to misuse the system. In addition, it’s another useful way of ensuring compliance on a regular basis, and in the end providing a better outcome for all ABN holders.   

The proposal to introduce an update and renewal process for ABNs is another reform we applaud. One of the obvious issues with the current ABN system is that the information they hold tends be out of date because there’s no regular prompt to review them. This needs to happen. By pairing say an annual renewal process with the requirement to update the ABN information would go a big way towards dissuading abusers of the system.

The submission was submitted on 7 September 2018. To view it click here: ABN Submission.

You can find out more about the BSCAA’s submissions at