TCFUA Campaign for Outworkers’ Rights

Union campaigns for outworkers’ rights

The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) has been campaigning intensively to improve outworkers working conditions since 1994.

The TCFUA’s principal aim is to organize and educate clothing outworkers. Over the past 15 years, the TCFUA has supported outworkers in successful claims for unpaid wages and entitlements from their employers. The TCFUA has also supported educational and community-building activities for outworkers, such as information seminars on work rights, leadership training for outworker activists, free English language and literacy classes, and a Vietnamese language radio program run by clothing outworkers from 2003 to 2008.

Meanwhile, the TCFUA has also lobbied and campaigned successfully for legislative changes that recognize outworkers’ rights. Notable achievements have been the Outworker provisions in the TCF Award 2010, the Ethical Clothing Trades Act in New South Wales in 2001, and the Outworker Improved Protection Act in Victoria in 2003.

Campaign milestones

Some milestones over the last 15 years of campaigning include:

  • 1994 National outworker phone-in. Over a period of 8 weeks, bi-lingual workers received 3,000 calls from outworkers, who were seeking advice, or looking to talk to someone about their situation.
  • 1995 TCFUA published “The Hidden Cost of Fashion” report. The report documented for the first time the structural role of outworkers in the clothing industry, as well as their personal stories and experiences.
  • 1995  The Hidden Cost of Fashion and campaigning by the TCFUA prompted a Senate Inquiry into clothing outwork.
  • 1997 The Homeworkers Code of Practice was established, as a joint union-industry initiative to monitor companies’ treatment of outworkers and accredit ethical manufacturers.
  • 1999 English language and literacy classes were established for outworkers by TCFUA Victoria.
  • 2001 No Sweat Shop Label was launched. The No Sweat Shop Label is an accreditation scheme that recognizes and promotes ethical Australia clothing manufacturers (it is now called Ethical Clothing Australia).
  • 2001 The “Behind the Label” initiative was launched by New South Wales government, to provide education and advocacy, skills recognition and English language lessons for clothing outworkers.
  • 2001 The Ethical Clothing Trades Act was passed in New South Wales.
  • 2001 Outworker leadership training program began in Victoria.
  • 2003 Outworker Voice radio show begins at 3CR Community Radio in Melbourne, produced by outworkers and broadcast in Vietnamese. The program continued until 2008.
  • 2001 TCFUA produced the DVD “20 pieces: outworkers tell the real fashion story”
  • 2003 – 2007 TCFUA Victorian branch successfully prosecuted over 100 companies for breaches of outwork-related clauses of the Clothing Trades Award
  • 2003 The Outworker Improved Protection Act was passed in Victoria
  • 2003 TCFUA produced the DVD “Outworkers Work Safe”, to demonstrate ways that outworkers can prevent injury and illness when working at home.
  • 2006 TCFUA supported 12 outworkers to undertake a three-month pattern-making course at RMIT in Victoria.
  • 2008 TCFUA supported 13 outworkers to undertake a year-long pattern-making course at RMIT in Victoria.
  • 2007 No Sweat Shop Label and Homeworkers Code of Practice received Federal Government funding.
  • 2009 TCFUA facilitated a series of inter-state outworker exchange meetings in Melbourne, between Melbourne-based clothing outworkers and outworker activists from Asian Women at Work in Sydney.
  • 2009 Federal Government passed legislation requiring that any company manufacturing TCF products for government procurement must be accredited to the Ethical Clothing Australia.
  • 2012 Federal Government passed legislation that protects outworkers and ensures that they have access to the same minimum rights that other workers in the TCF industry have