The Senate Education Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee sitting in Melbourne today, as part of its Inquiry into the Fair Work Amendment (Textile Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill 2011, has heard directly from homebased outworkers.

Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) National Secretary, Michele O’Neil was accompanied by two outworkers when she appeared before the committee today.  Ms O’Neil said, “Too often Canberra politicians make decisions without hearing from the real workers who will be affected – this was not the case today.”

Anh Dang told the Inquiry her husband passed away nearly 11 years ago when her only daughter was 4 years old. She studied Aged Care, but unable to find work, learnt to sew and became an outworker.

In the last 4 years she has worked for one contractor, who pays her by the piece. She earns $5 an hour and works 12 per day, 7 days a week. As well as spending carefully on her living expenses, she needs to pay working expenses such as electricity, cotton and machine related costs.  

“I don’t have enough time for my daughter. I don’t have enough time for myself”, Ms Dang said, “My daughter is in year 10, I have to make money to raise her and pay for the rent.”

In addition her employer insists that she have an ABN. Ms Dang said, “The boss wants me to be a contractor so he does not need to pay me anything other than the piece rate.”

Another outworker, Susan Tran told the inquiry she began working as an outworker in 2006 when she discovered that her then three year old son suffers from autism and would require intensive emotional and physical help. After the birth of a second child, who was also diagnosed with autism, Susan became a single parent.

Ms Tran said, “Over the years I worked for different factories and labels. They pay me by piece. Currently my estimation is about $4 per hour without entitlements. In the past few months most of the factories asked for an ABN so they avoid paying me entitlements.”

 Ms Tran’s evidence included that it is now harder to get work and increasingly her employers have insisted on paying her cash, which results in a lower piece price.

“Because of the lower price,” Ms Tran said, “I have to work 12-15 hours per day and the work is not regular so I have to run around to find the work. I also need to work all weekend but I don’t get any overtime. I never get paid Super or Workcover. There was one time I didn’t get paid for 4 months. The amount of those orders was worth about $8,000”

The TCFUA has welcomed the Bill as providing nationally consistent provisions across Australia and a critical safety net of terms and conditions for workers in the TCF industry who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Ms O’Neil said, “Abuse of workers can, and does occur in factories, sweatshops and in homes. For many years, some companies have gotten away with shamelessly exploiting workers in the production of their products. Cutting wages and conditions doesn’t lead to improved productivity or more jobs. It just leads to unscrupulous companies making greater profits. It is time for this industry’s future to be built on ethical, fair conditions for workers” 

For further information and comment please contact:

TCFUA National Secretary, Michele O’Neil, 0419 338 853