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Government must establish child labour inquiry

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Joint Statement

B o b M cM u l l a n M P Sh a d o w M inister for Industrial Relations D u n c a n K er r M P Sh a d o w M inister for Immigration

MTIR2/96 2 A pril 1996


Following revelations on last night's Ά Current Affair' program, the Opposition today called on the Government to establish an inquiry into the extent of abuse of workers, particularly children in outworker 'factories'.

The Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Bob McMullan, and the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Duncan Kerr, said there is growing evidence that a large number of Australian children are the subject of exploitative labour conditions, working for low wages - and with the tacit approval of major retail chains which market their products.

Mr Kerr said it seems the bulk of people who are victims of the outworkers system are of non-English speaking backgrounds with limited capacity to avail themselves of the protection of award systems.

"They are not in a position to find alternative employment," Mr Kerr said.

"They lack the capacity to build their skills.

"And when they have to work very long hours to obtain a meagre living for their families, children are being drawn into the system," Mr Kerr said.

Mr McMullan said the former Labor Government was aware of the problem and had introduced a number of initiatives to counter the problem, including:

. funding for enforcement of awards in the workplace reform process

. ordering all government agencies not to purchase goods in which non-award outworker or child labour components were involved

. establishing a hot line for award enforcement

. and working closely with the Clothing Trades Union in the areas where this type of work was concentrated to ensure that workers were paid at least in accordance with minimum award conditions.


"As an absolute minimum, the Government should guarantee that these initiatives will be maintained, but more may be needed," Mr McMullan said.

"There is increasing evidence that abuse of the outwork system is not isolated or sporadic.

"The abuse is substantial and well integrated into a supply system for a number of major clothing manufacturers and retailers."

Mr McMullan and Mr Kerr said Australia has maintained a strong stand against child labour practices in other countries and that most Australians would agree there is no place for such practices in this country.

"A scheme must be put in place to assist outworkers to be paid at reasonable award rates or be able to find alternative employment," they said.

"This is not a case of seeking to displace these people from the work they need in order to support their families, it is all about fair and non-exploitative working conditions.

"It is an issue which must be handled sensitively.

"If the Government fails to establish an inquiry, we will discuss the matter with our colleagues in the Senate and with the Democrat and Green Senators with a view to finding a mechanism that would enable the issue to be properly examined in the public interest."

Further information: Mr McMullan's office, (06) 277 4885 or (06) 247 4396 Mr Kerr's office, (002) 34 5255