TFIA attacks outworker legislation –it must be working!
The FairWear campaign, a coalition of churches, community organisations and unions, is deeply concerned by statements released late last week by the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA) regarding the impact of outworker protections in the Textile Clothing and Footwear award.
FairWear challenges the claim by TFIA CEO Jo Kellock that the TCF industry has given “financial freedom and flexibility to many workers over the years”. The FairWear campaign has worked with outworkers in Australian cities and suburbs for over 15 years. We have known the TCF industry to provide workers with exploitation, underpayment of wages and unsafe working conditions.
The exploitation of outworkers has been extensively documented. Clothing outworkers are generally migrant women with limited English and limited employment options, who work long hours (often 12 to 14 hours a day) for rates of pay as little as $3-$4 an hour.
Amity Lynch, the FairWear NSW Campaign Co-ordinator, said:
“While we acknowledge and value the right of outworkers to work from home, we do not accept that these workers deserve to be treated as second class citizens and denied the rights of other workers. Outworker legislation has been designed to increase transparency in TCF industry supply chains and expose the exploitation that is so commonplace within this industry.
Improved legal protections for outworkers, and the Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation and labelling scheme, have meant that outworkers are beginning to experience positive changes in their pay and conditions. TCF industry employers and the TFIA are now ramping up their opposition to legal protections for outworkers, a sure sign that these laws must be working.”
FairWear and its member organisations report that while outworkers are beginning to experience changes there are still many who work extremely long hours for very low rates of pay. The compliance and monitoring work needs to continue to ensure that the benefits are felt more widely and that those who have had improvements don't end up back on $5-6 an hour.
The TFIA and employers are arguing that there is currently too much compliance work being done to check that workers in the Australian clothing industry receive the pay and conditions that they are entitled to by law.
This compliance work is necessary because it has been shown time and time again that the industry is rife with exploitation of workers, with many outworkers receiving as little as $4-6 an hour, despite their high levels of skill.
FairWear supports the TFIA's call to preserve the competitive advantage of the local industry, however this competitive advantage should be based on skill and innovation, not on who can get away with paying the lowest wages.
Amity Lynch said:
“You have to wonder why certain employers in the industry are so scared of transparency in their supply chains. Many companies have now become accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia to help ensure that workers in their supply chain receive their correct pay and entitlements. Why should other companies have a competitive advantage by having their clothes made in backyard sweatshops or by paying outworkers less than half the Award wage they are entitled to?”
Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA)