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Australian workers protected from exploitation

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SENATOR THE HON CHRIS EVANS Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations Leader of the Government in the Senate


24 November 2011

Australian workers protected from exploitation

Australian workers will have more protection from sweatshop conditions in the textile, clothing and footwear industry thanks to the Gillard Government’s commitment to providing a safety net for vulnerable workers.

Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, will today introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill, to provide improved workplace protection for vulnerable workers in the textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry.

“Some of the most vulnerable workers in our society are TCF outworkers - those who are engaged to work at home rather than in traditional business premises,” Senator Evans said.

“These outworkers are often migrants with poor English language skills and a lack of knowledge about the Australian legal system.

“The legislation introduced today will make it easier for outworkers to receive minimum entitlements and will ensure compliance with the relevant provisions at all levels of the supply chain.

“By improving compliance with the existing provisions across the board and by introducing consistent provisions for outworkers, large retailers and clothing brands will have additional assurance that the garments they sell have been manufactured in an ethical way.”

The Bill provides a nationally consistent approach to workplace protection for TCF outworkers by:

extending the operation of most provisions of the Fair Work Act to contract outworkers in the TCF industry; enabling TCF outworkers to recover owed payments; and enabling a TCF outwork code to be issued.

The Bill will also address a limitation in the current provisions governing right of entry in relation to breaches affecting non-outworkers in the TCF industry who may be working under ‘sweatshop’ conditions.

Senator Evans said a number of reviews over the past 15 years have raised concerns about the situation of outworkers and sweatshop conditions in the TCF sector.

A report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in 2007 found that outworkers experience poor working conditions and are frequently underpaid, sometimes receiving as little as two or three dollars per hour.

The Senate Economics Reference Committee’s Inquiry into Outworkers in the Garment Industry (1996) also found problems with payments and hours of work as well as confusion and misinformation in relation to rights and responsibilities.

Senator Evans said the Gillard Government was committed to protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation.

“In 2008 the Australian Government provided a $4 million grant to Ethical Clothing Australia to support its work in highlighting issues faced by outworkers and promoting accredited brands to consumers,” he said.

“This year the Government announced a further grant of $4 million so Ethical Clothing Australia can continue its important work in promoting the program and protecting workers’ rights.”

Senator Evans’ Media Contacts: Rhys Davies 0411 138 572 Amy McKenna 0408 570 603

DEEWR Media: Non-media enquiries: 1300 363 079