Campaign launched to reach ‘hidden homeworkers’ sewing from home

Published on 18/11/20

A three-day campaign running from 25-27 November will urge ‘hidden’ Australian garment workers sewing from home to ring a national hotline staffed by English and Vietnamese speakers (and other languages by request) to help them find out their legal entitlements and exercise their right to a safe working environment. “Homeworkers are particularly vulnerable in the garment industry as they often work in isolation, face unrealistic deadlines, long hours, irregular work and occupational health and safety issues,” said Angela Bell, National Manager, Ethical Clothing Australia. ECA says that despite strict labour laws and minimum wages in Australia, underpayment of workers in the garment industry is common, especially of homeworkers who are easy to exploit because they are often migrant women and hidden in complex supply chains. The three day campaign this month has been organised by ECA and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (TCF Union).

“ECA provides a level playing field to businesses who are willing to undergo an independent audit of their supply chains and where issues are identified they must be fixed. The compliance and outreach officers are able to work with the businesses so that the workers, particularly homeworkers in the industry, are being treated appropriately.

 

“The ECA accreditation was first created because of high levels of exploitation of homeworkers. Underpayments and other forms of exploitation are issues that we have been uncovering and addressing for two decades,” said Ms Bell. Ms Bell said that COVID-19 saw some peak periods of demand for local workers to produce PPE such as gowns, scrubs and face masks leading to breaches in supply chains in the local industry, reinforcing the need for the accreditation program and the new campaign. Recent examples include:

 

  • A homeworker owed $15,000 by their employer, which was only repaid after Outwork Outreach Officers and Compliance Officers helped to negotiate the payments.

 

  • A homeworker was asked to make face masks at a rate that equated to about $7 per hour, almost a third of the current minimum hourly wage ($20.41).

 

  • Revelations that homeworkers were registered for Jobkeeper by their employers, however they were not receiving the payments until TCF Outwork Outreach Officers and Compliance Officers intervened.

 

“There’s an unverified number of homeworkers in Australia, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. Many don’t realise, but they are covered by the same Award as their factory colleagues,” said Ms Bell.

 

“Everyone deserves fair pay, and safe work conditions, no matter where they are working. Underpayment and poor work conditions are common, hidden by complex supply chains and the large numbers of migrant workers who may be fearful of speaking out about their rights for fear they’ll lose work,” said Ms Bell.

 

“Over these three days we’re encouraging people who sew from home for work to phone in  anonymously and in their own language if they wish – to learn about correct pay, entitlements and safety at home. Estimates on the total number of garment workers in Australia range from 35,000 – 45,000 but the large number of ‘hidden homeworkers’ make counting the workforce difficult. Facts and stats:

 

  • A 2019 Fair Work Ombudsman report revealed:

– 44% of Australian garment workers were born overseas

– 60% of Australian garment workers are women

– 48% of all textiles, clothing and footwear businesses manufacturing in Australia were compliant with workplace requirements

– More than 1-in-5 (22%) TCF businesses were underpaying workers

 

  • Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) is an accreditation body that works with local textile, clothing and footwear businesses to uphold the rights of Australian garment workers

 

  • This year marks 20 years since the ECA accreditation system was first established as a joint national union-industry initiative. It is currently funded by the Victorian Government

 

  • To achieve ECA accreditation, a business voluntarily opens up its supply chain to TCF Union auditors to verify that every manufacturing worker, including homeworkers, is paid fairly, receives all entitlements like super and sick leave and working in safe conditions.

 

Homeworker Hotline Campaign:

When: Homeworkers can all anytime on Wednesday 25th, Thursday, 26th or Friday 27th November, 2020

Time: 9am – 7pm

 

How:

– Phone in to speak with a TCF Union Compliance Officer or Outreach Officer

– You can choose to remain anonymous

– If you speak Vietnamese phone Nguyet 0418 386 928 or Thao 0403 586 449

– If you speak English or to arrange an alternative language contact Beth 0418770 273 or Casey 0408 266 645.

 

If you are able to help spread the word about this campaign please contact emily@ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au for assets and more information.

 

About Ethical Clothing Australia

Ethical Clothing Australia is a joint industry and union initiative first established in 2000 in response to rising concern about garment worker exploitation. The accreditation program was established under the leadership and collaborative efforts of the local Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union

(then known as the TCFUA), and businesses and employer groups from the local industry including the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and the New South Wales Business Chamber. ECA is a not-for-profit organisation currently supported by the Victorian Government. It was funded by the Federal Government up until 2012.

The ECA accreditation and labelling system provides consumers and buyers with a way to identify and support ethically made Australian textile, clothing and footwear products.