TCFUA Response to Abetz Anti-Union Attack

23-Jun-2014 The statement below can be attributed to Michele O’Neil, TCFUA National Secretary

On the 5th and 6th of June 2014 the TCFUA commenced Federal Circuit Court proceedings against 23 clothing companies over breaches of laws designed to protect against the exploitation of outworkers.

In recent days in the media and in the parliament, Eric Abetz has attacked the TCFUA, misrepresented the TCFUA’s actions and made a number of highly defamatory statements.

This federal government has been telling unions that industrial action is illegal, protest action is illegal and now appear to be claiming that legal action is illegal.

The TCFUA’s action, against the 23 companies, are not underpayments claims brought on behalf of individuals.

The claims brought by the union are for alleged breaches of supply chain transparency provisions, under the award.

The union wrote to these companies almost a year ago pointing out their obligations under the award and encouraging them to make their businesses award compliant. These companies chose to ignore their legal obligations.

By way of explanation, the law requires companies to take responsibility for workers’ conditions in their supply chains. When companies breach these provisions, there is no way to know if the workers making garments for that company are receiving their legal minimum wages and conditions.

The TCFUA has taken similar legal action for breaches of the award outworker provisions against more than 170 companies over approximately the last 15 years.

The union would prefer companies in the industry to voluntarily comply with their legal obligations. Unfortunately the union’s experience is that companies often do not voluntarily comply with the award, but only do so once court proceedings are lodged.

Recent comments in the media and parliament are the latest in a series of attacks by the Abbott Government and Abetz upon vulnerable workers in the TCF industry, and upon the industry itself.

Senator Abetz is the cheer squad for companies that are now attacking the proceedings against them. Notably, Senator Abetz has not claimed that the award breach allegations are untrue.

It is completely normal and appropriate for parties to resolve legal proceedings by reaching voluntary settlement agreements. The union is now working with a number of companies who are committed to supply chain transparency and compliance with the award. If other companies prefer to have these matters heard and any associated penalties determined by the Federal Circuit Court then the union is fully prepared to take this course.

On the last occasion the Federal Court heard a similar matter, it imposed a penalty payable to the union of $110,550. Any settlement sums or penalties paid to the union contribute towards the costs of the TCFUA’s award and supply chain compliance work to end the exploitation of outworkers and sweatshop workers, the education of these workers about their rights and the provision of support to these workers.

The union’s legal proceedings are about companies in the TCF industry not abiding by the law.

In contrast, Senator Abetz and the federal government would prefer to protect, support and defend companies in the TCF industry who break the law.

Senator Abetz enjoys a life of wealth and privilege that workers in the TCF industry could only ever dream of, yet attacks the efforts of the TCFUA to enforce the award designed to protect these workers.

This is another example of how every day the Abbott Government displays that their agenda is to support business over low paid hard working workers and to defend privilege over entitlement.