What is a homeworker / outworker?

Published on 27/01/16

The term ‘outwork’ refers to work that is conducted outside of a formal work environment – i.e. at residential premises or other premises that would not conventionally be regarded as being business premises. Due to the hidden nature of home-based work, it is hard to determine the exact number of homeworkers in Australia. Many homeworkers (also known as outworkers) in Australia are migrant women who come from non-English speaking backgrounds, and often do not fully understand their rights as Australian workers. These workers make clothing for Australian designers, fashion retailers and uniform suppliers, and can experience unethical working conditions and unreasonable expectations.

Some homeworkers in Australia can work long hours and do not receive the legal Award rate of pay. They can be paid by piece, which means there is significant pressure to work extensive hours to produce more garments. Not surprisingly, this can have a huge impact on their mental and physical health.

Homeworkers can face irregular work and an insecure income. Due to poor working conditions homeworkers are more likely to have work related injuries, both acute and chronic, than their counterparts who work in regulated factories. In addition to experiencing poor working conditions and underpayment, homeworkers often don’t receive their lawful industrial entitlements such as paid annual and personal leave or superannuation.

There is a widespread reluctance from homeworkers to speak up about their maltreatment, due to fear of jeopardising their work supply. Such concerns are exacerbated by the low incomes that many homeworkers live on. While some workers may prefer to work from home because it enables them to generate an income while meeting family responsibilities, some homeworkers struggle to get work elsewhere and have little choice but to work from home at rates set by the businesses.