Draining the Swamp: How to Spot Toxic Tradies and Red Flag Employers
We have been recruiting for Melbourne plumbers since just before Christmas to join our growing team, which involves the usual fun and games of the recruitment process (luckily, we found some great guys we think will fit our team well). Our process involves the standard job advertisements on social media, job platforms, word of mouth etc, then screening and shortlisting candidates and finally the interviews.
In almost every round of interviews for Melbourne plumbers we’ve conducted over the past decade, there’s been a clanger dropped that’s made us shake our heads. From the ‘I just realised I haven’t been paid super for the past 3 years’ to the ‘What’s CoINVEST? My boss never paid me long service leave’ or even ‘I worked a year as an Apprentice but was never officially signed up’.
We understand how difficult it is to own a small business, and how expensive it is to have employees; wages, superannuation, portable long service leave, allowances, work vehicle, workcover, CPI payrises, and don’t even get me started on payroll tax… the employee overheads seem endless. But we believe it was our decision to grow our business from sole trader to the size it is today, not our employees, so its our responsibility to make sure our employees are paid the entitlements they deserve (as a bare minimum).
We certainly aren’t perfect, but we do try hard to make sure we provide a positive workplace for our team, and that includes following National Employment Standards. There are so many cowboy employers around so I thought I’d try think of some potential red flags that tradies should look out for when staying with an employer, or choosing a new one, in the construction industry.
Red Flag 1 – Your Salary Payments are Delayed or Inconsistent.
Constant issues with delayed or inconsistent salary payments, including overtime and allowances, are major red flags. Reliable and transparent payroll practices are crucial for a healthy employer-employee relationship. Wages should be paid as per your contract (weekly, fortnightly etc) and on the same day consistently (i.e. Thursdays). If your payday is continuously changing, or you are told it is delayed due to cashflow keep an eye on your payslips and consider finding out the financial stability of your employer.
Red Flag 2 – Lack of Employee Benefits.
Beyond delayed wages, a lack of payment of employee benefits, such as portable long service leave, superannuation, or other promised allowances, may indicate an employer’s unwillingness to invest in the overall wellbeing of their workforce. Don’t just rely on what is written on your payslips to see if superannuation has been paid, check your superannuation fund statements. Employers must make superannuation contributions of 11% of an employee’s ‘ordinary time earnings’. It must be paid at least every 3 months into an employee’s nominated superannuation fund.
We choose to pay it into our employee’s nominated superannuation fund weekly, on payday, as it just made sense for us to do so. The Australian Government tends to agree as they announced in the 2023/2024 budget that ‘from 1 July 2026, employers will need to pay superannuation for their employees on the same day they pay the salary and wages to which it relates. The changes were announced in the 2023/24 Federal Budget as a way of addressing the amount of superannuation that goes unpaid so the ATO can detect this earlier’ – Grant Thornton, 2023.
If an employer isn’t paying superannuation, they probably aren’t paying portable long service leave either. Under the Construction Industry Long Service Leave Act 1997, employers who employ persons to perform Construction Work must provide information to CoINVEST Limited (now trading as LeavePlus) and otherwise comply with the Rules of the Construction Industry Long Service Leave Fund.
If I had a dollar for every time I inducted Melbourne plumbers that had never heard of portable long service leave, let alone ever been paid their entitlements…
If you are a plumber (or builder, sparky, painter etc) and don’t have a CoINVEST/LeavePlus number, register here. If you are a tradie that has a number yet haven’t had your contributions paid by your current or past employer, submit a missing service investigation request here.
Why would I ‘rat out’ other employers you may ask? Because in all honesty it gives me the sh*ts that we have to pay thousands of dollars each year doing the right thing yet know of so many businesses that don’t and don’t seem to have any repercussions from it. Petty much? It would be if it only affected me, but when it rips off my employees or future employees from long service leave that they could be spending with their families, I feel like I need to call it out.
Red Flag 3 – Lack of Training and Professional Development.
Red flag employers may not invest in the continuous training and development of their employees. This includes providing opportunities for skill enhancement, attending workshops, and staying updated on industry best practices. It can also include employing apprentices, but not officially signing them up. An applicant emailed a cover letter just a few days ago and on it stated ‘I have unofficially completed the first two years of my plumbing apprenticeship, the first year being drainage, where I was meant to be signed up as a plumbing apprentice but after a year I still had not been signed up by my employer’.
In order to sign an apprentice on, an employer is required to sign up to a formal training contract within the first 14 days of employment, this is done by engaging with an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network provider (we use MEGT).
Your employer not only needs to sign a training contract, they also must let their apprentice attend each and every block of trade school (this is about 8-10 x block weeks per year). An employer shouldn’t invest in an apprentice (and receive Government subsidies for doing so) if they don’t intend on allowing the apprentice to attend trade school. Employers must also reimburse RTO fees and textbook costs for the apprentices training.
Red Flag 4 – Disregard for Legal Compliance.
Red flag employers may not adhere to legal requirements, including proper documentation, contracts, and adherence to plumbing industry regulations. Failure to comply with legal standards can lead to various issues for employees. You want to ensure you sign a contract when you first commence your employment and undergo a thorough induction including OH&S expectations from the business and PPE distribution. Before commencing with a new plumbing company, check they are licensed with the VBA here; if they have a licence they will have public liability insurance so that’s a good indication they are compliant operators, even better is if they are members of the Master Plumbers Association.
Red Flag 5 – High Employee Turnover.
Employee turnover is normal in any business, particularly in construction, however a consistently high turnover rate within a company may indicate issues with employee satisfaction, leadership, or overall work conditions. Try and investigate why employees are leaving to determine if there are systemic problems within the organisation. Feel free to ask questions in your interview such as why the previous plumber left their position or why there are vacancies available.
Red Flag 6 – Inadequate Equipment, Resources and Regards to Safety.
Employers who do not invest in quality tools, vehicles, equipment, and resources for their teams may hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of their employees. This lack of investment can also indicate a broader disregard for employee wellbeing.
Unsafe work practices are a significant red flag. Employers should prioritise the safety of their workers by implementing and enforcing proper safety protocols, providing necessary protective equipment, and promoting a culture of safety. Injuries and Near Misses should be taken very seriously, and closed out correctly so they don’t happen again. Toolbox talks should be frequent and include OH&S topics and training and a SWMS/JSA/Take 5 system should be utilised for safety hazard analysis.
Choose the right Melbourne Plumber to work for
Hopefully by addressing these toxic employer traits we can help potential employees identify red flags and make informed decisions when evaluating potential employers or staying with current employers in the plumbing and construction industry. By calling out toxic plumbing businesses we can ensure the integrity of our trade.