Posted by LNA Master Landscapers Association
on 17 April 2016
The following information has been provided to us by our Gold Corporate Partner, Nationwide Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd and we thank them for keeping us abreast of the legislative changes affecting our industry.
The unfair contract laws, Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Act 2015, comes into effect on 12 November 2016.
It could provide a strong benefit to small businesses when they are negotiating sub-contracts with Principals and Head Contractors.
What is an unfair contract term?
An unfair contract term is a term which:
causes significant unbalance to someone's rights and obligations;
would cause them detriment if it was relied on; and
is not reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the party relying on it.
To date, small business usually had no option but to sign an unfair contract with large corporations or miss out on the opportunity for that work.
Who's protected under this Legislation?
There are 2 key criteria:
you must be a small business (ie less than 20 employees); and
the upfront contract price must be less than $300,000 (for contracts of 12 months or less) or less than $1,000,000 (for contracts exceeding 12 months).
From 12 November 2016, small businesses can challenge any unfair contract term. The onus is on the large corporation (or government authority) to prove those terms are not unfair. If they are, the term is void and can't be enforced against the small business.
This is long awaited and hard won protection for small businesses and has the potential to significantly enhance their ability and willingness to provide services to big business.
The Legislation will apply to unbalanced indemnity clauses in the following manner.
One-sided indemnity clauses
There are a number of ways in which indemnity clauses could be challenged as unfair contract terms - these include:
Indemnities which transfer liability to the small business for losses or liability regardless of fault
Indemnities that require the small business to be liable for the other party's negligence
Unlimited indemnities, eg where there is no financial limitation
Indemnities for consequential loss, or excessive liquidated damages.
What about contracting out of proportionate liability?
The proportionate liability laws enable contracting parties' liabilities to be adjusted to the proportion to which they caused, or contributed to an event that caused a loss. Clauses which contract out of this and impede the small business' ability to join the large corporations as a concurrent wrongdoer in litigation involving a third party are manifestly unfair!
This means that small businesses can challenge any indemnity clause that differs substantially from the smaller business' liability in the absence of the contract. Especially if it would trigger a contractual liability exclusion in an insurance policy as this would mean that the small business would have no insurance coverage for the exposure.
Small businesses rarely have the financial resources to indemnify large corporations without recourse to their liability insurance. The irony in this situation is that the contract usually requires the small business to hold those insurances for this very purpose.
Once the new law commences, small businesses will have more ability to challenge these types of clauses, as it will be illegal to include them in contracts with small businesses. This will reduce the current imbalance in negotiating power between small and large businesses and reduce exposure to uninsured losses.
What about contracts signed before 12 November 2016?
Large corporations and Government Authorities can continue to use contracts with unfair terms until 12 November 2016. If you feel like you're being pressured to sign something now, this might be why!
If you sign a contract before 12 November 2016, it will be harder to challenge any unfair contract terms but you should try.
If an existing contract continues after 12 November 2016, ask for changes now to redress the imbalance in the indemnity and other clauses. If that's not possible, the new laws will only apply to the contract when it is renewed, varied or extended after 12 November 2016.
Information provided to Nationwide Insurance Brokers by The Fold Legal