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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 Shado w M inister for Industrial Relations D u n c a n K err M P Shadow M inister for Immigration

M T IR 2/96 2 A pril 1996


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

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

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

"They are not in a position to find alternative employment," M r 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 McM ullan said the former Labor Government was aware o f the problem and had introduced a number o f initiatives to counter the problem, including:

. funding for enforcement o f 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 o f 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 o f the outwork system is not isolated or sporadic.

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

Mr McMullan and M r 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 o f 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