Use of ‘slaves’ outlawed in Qld clothing industry

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Use of ‘slaves’ outlawed in Qld clothing industry

A Queensland trade union official has welcomed new legislation cleaning up the State's clothing outworkers industry, saying he would rather see exploiters put out of business than people used as 'slaves'.

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A Queensland trade union official has welcomed new legislation cleaning up the State's clothing outworkers industry, saying he would rather see exploiters put out of business than people used as 'slaves'.  

The legislation came on the same day The Sydney Morning Herald reported officials from the NSW branch of the union had raided a Sydney sweatshop and found seven seamstresses sewing dresses for $4 an hour. The dresses were destined for sale in stores like David Jones and Myer.  

'Label' responsibility

Jack Morel, Queensland State Secretary Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, told WorkplaceInfo that under the legislation the ultimate destination of the garments, the 'label', had responsibility for ensuring proper wages are paid. 

The Minister for Employment, Training & Industrial Relations, Tom Barton, introduced the legislation into State Parliament this week, saying it aims to deny business to unscrupulous clothing industry employers. 

Claims of up to $50,000

Morel said the legislation will 'make a whole lot of difference to outworkers now being paid between $2 and $5 an hour without WorkCover or superannuation'. 

'They are being ripped off - sometimes they are not paid at all,' he said. 

'Under the new legislation the outworkers, through the union or industrial inspectors, can go straight to the Industrial Relations Commission with claims for unpaid wages up to $50,000.

'And they can claim directly to the person at the top of the chain, the label, regardless of where in the chain the work came from. 

'It is an outstanding piece of legislation and we welcome it. 

'It won't be retrospective, but it is a warning of what is to come if people continue to exploit outworkers.' 

The problem

When Morel spoke to WorkplaceInfo by mobile phone he said he was at one of the exploiters of outworkers in the Queensland clothing industry. 

'He doesn't register his workers and doesn't keep records on anything,' Morel said. 

'Generally they work at home or in garages on piece work. They are paid about $5 an hour when they should be getting between $19 and $25.' 

Morel said that the users of outworkers had said in the past they would go offshore if they were forced to pay proper wages, 'but they would have done that anyway if they really meant it'. 

'In any case I would rather see these exploiters out of business than using people as slaves,' he said 'This is Australia.' 

Morel said 95% of the people in the outwork industry were Vietnamese. 

Under the legislation a Vietnamese liaison officer has been appointed by the Queensland Government to help stamp out exploitation. 

Minister Barton said the liaison officer's duties would include educating workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities.

Enforcement

He said enforcement measures would improve industry compliance, with more inspectors employed and more audits carried out across the state. 

'System changes that help manufacturers more readily declare that their work complies with the code, will be published in Vietnamese and be widely promoted, especially among schools,' Barton said.  

Family friendly

Other amendments to the Act would result in work and family provisions being considered by the Industrial Relations Commission in award and agreement negotiations, he said. 

Barton said the Commission would ensure awards took into account employees' family responsibilities and wherever possible include provisions to allow workers and employers to reach agreement on work and family responsibilities. 

Other changes

Other changes clarify and extend some unpaid leave entitlements and invalid dismissal provisions for casuals, he said. 

Barton said other changes would clarify dismissal and leave provisions and help workers to balance work and family priorities. 

'This serves notice on unethical employers in the clothing industry that they cannot continue to exploit outworkers,' he said. 

'These amendments will result in an improved Government code of practice for Queensland clothing suppliers so they do not inadvertently contribute to the exploitation of outworkers.'

Morel said legislation to clean up the outworkers industry had already been passed in NSW and Victoria. 

'There have already been a lot of prosecutions in Victoria' he said. 

Morel said the Queensland legislation followed a six month's independent investigation which had shown that the union's claims of widespread exploitation were correct. 

More information

The Bill can be viewed here.

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill.

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Mandatory code of practice for clothing trades (NSW)

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