Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission is deeply concerned about the impact of the Federal Government’s workplace relations system on outworkers in the clothing industry.
The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that WorkChoices may undermine a raft of protections for outworkers and make them more susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
“It has been a long struggle to get greater protection for outworkers and we are concerned that the new system will remove many of the protections which have been introduced in recent times,” Mr Arndt said.
“Many outworkers are migrant women with limited English and they are often easily exploited,” he said.
“We know that this situation is not uncommon as quite a few clothing industry employers are before the Courts in Brisbane right now for allegedly breaching award provisions, he said.
“We have approached the Government to seek assurances about adequate protection for outworkers under the new system, but we have received no response,” he added.
In recent months, the Commission has worked with Fairwear, a community organisation, to promote just pay and conditions for outworkers.
Fairwear has identified a number of major concerns about the effect of the new system on outworkers:
- Employers may be able to opt out of the outworker award provisions;
- Outworkers may be considered as “independent contractors” rather than as employees, making it possible for them to be pressured into agreeing to a contract which pays them poorly; The definition of an outworker is very narrow;
- The mechanisms that allow the comprehensive monitoring of the activities of companies through the whole clothing supply chain will be undermined;
- The onus for making a claim against an employer is placed on individual outworkers;
- Outworkers’ ability to claim unpaid wages from the principle contractor when their boss disappears without paying will be removed.
Mr Arndt said that the Commission believes that the Government should not rush to pass the legislation so that problems with proposed reforms can be identified and rectified.
“It is very hard to understand why the legislation has been rushed through the House of Representatives and why the Senate Inquiry will be so short when it is so complex and so far-reaching in its implications for workers,” Mr Arndt said.
“Above all else, we want clear assurances from the Government that the most vulnerable workers, like the many Vietnamese Australian women making school uniforms in their homes in Brisbane, will be protected from exploitation,” he said.
“Catholic Social Teaching stresses the importance of work to the dignity of people and the rights of workers to fair pay rates and conditions,” he said.
“As witnesses to the Gospel, we cannot stay silent if these changes will make it more likely that the weakest in our community are working long hours doing skilled work for as little as $3 or $4 an hour,” he said.
NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Charter which enables the Commission to speak in its own right. The views it contains do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.