What is a homeworker / outworker?

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.

Why are large brands that manufacture overseas allowed to use the Ethical Clothing Australia trademark?

The Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) accreditation system only covers textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing and associated value adding functions that takes place in Australia. The ECA trademark can only be displayed on products made in Australia. That said, also having products made overseas does not disqualify a business from undergoing the accreditation process for their Australian-made products.

Accreditation should not be viewed as a ‘blanket endorsement’ of an individual brand or business. The key thing is to look for the ECA trademark on textile, clothing and footwear products, because when you see the trademark on a product it means it was made in Australia and all of the workers involved in its production received fair wages and decent conditions.

If you have any queries regarding an accredited brands’ overseas production, please contact the brand directly.


What is the Award?

Industrial awards are a set of laws specific to particular industries. Under the Fair Work Act 2009, modern awards, together with the National Employment Standards, set out the minimum conditions of employment, which businesses must meet. The relevant federal modern award for the Australian textile, clothing and footwear industry is the Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award 2010 (TCFAI Award). Some state awards also continue to apply in the TCF industry.

Is accreditation the same as being award compliant?

Being award compliant simply means a business is operating according to relevant State or Federal laws. Given the outsourcing model of the TCF industry, clothing and other TCF goods are often made within long and complex supply chains. Accredited businesses, in addition to their award obligations, see value in third party compliance and the ECA voluntary accreditation scheme. These businesses are making an additional commitment to greater transparency in the local TCF industry to protect the rights of garment workers, and to work towards a more ethical industry.

What is the difference between a factory worker and an outworker / homeworker?

Homeworkers, also often referred to as outworkers, are textile, clothing and footwear workers who perform work from residential premises or a non-commercial / business premises. It is important to understand that the TCFAI Award also imposes obligations on businesses that engage homeworkers. Under the TCFAI Award, homeworkers have rights and entitlements that largely replicate those of factory workers.

Just like businesses who have various legal obligations to their factory or workshop based workers, businesses must meet various legal obligations in regards to home-based workers in their supply chain. For example, superannuation, WorkCover, and annual leave must be provided to homeworkers as well as certain set minimum and maximum hours as homeworkers cannot be engaged on a casual basis.

Outworkers do not have to register a business or company name in order to receive work. Legally they may refuse to do so. Even when a homeworker has an ABN, in most cases they will be considered to be an employee and not a sub-contractor.

There are also other conditions you need to be aware of such as the requirement to deliver and pick up garments to the homeworkers in your supply chain and provide them with trims and cottons etc. Contact the Union for further information.

What is the Board of Reference (BOR)?

Because much of the exploitation in the clothing and fashion industry is obscured by complex supply chains and the hidden nature of homework, a key aspect and strategy of both Ethical Clothing Australia’s accreditation system and the TCFAI Award is to encourage transparency at every level. This means there is an emphasis on thorough record-keeping, disclosure at each level of supply chains, and access for the TCFUA to inspect workplaces and records in order to assess pay rates and conditions etc.

Any clothing business that engages another business, contractor or individual to manufacture garments is required by law to register with the Fair Work Commission’s TCF Industry Board of Reference (BOR) before they give work out and provide quarterly lists of their Australian suppliers.

If a business is giving work out and is not registered with the BOR, it is in breach of the TCFAI Award. Please contact Ethical Clothing Australia for a copy of the BOR registration form.

Registration needs to be completed annually, and you need to supply lists detailing which businesses, contractors or individuals you have given out work to in the last three months. These lists need to be submitted within seven days from the end of February, May, August and November of each year.

Any of your suppliers who give work out also need to be registered with the BOR themselves. So before giving work out to other businesses, ask them to provide you with details of their BOR registration number.

What hours can factory workers be employed?

Employers/businesses have various obligations, as set out in the TCFAI Award, in regards to their employees.

Factory workers can work full-time, part-time or casually. The TCFAI Award sets minimum hourly pay rates, which are reviewed annually by the federal wage setting body, the Fair Work Commission. It is important you stay informed of the current minimum wage rates and ensure your workers are paid correctly.

‘Ordinary hours of work’ are those worked before overtime applies (maximum of 38 hours per week) and must be agreed between the employer and the employees in each workplace. Ordinary hours need to be worked between 7am and 7pm from Monday to Friday inclusive, for up to eight hours per day.

Part-time workers work less than 38 ordinary hours a week, but on a regular basis. Part-time workers are paid the same minimum hourly rate equivalent to full-time workers and receive all the same benefits and entitlements, but on a proportional or ‘pro rata’ basis.

Casual workers work on an hourly or daily basis, but are paid a higher hourly rate (25%) to compensate for the lack of some benefits such as annual leave etc.

Where can I find out more about Occupational Health and Safety and WorkCover?

Ensuring that workplaces in your supply chain are safe should be one of your top priorities. If you neglect your obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace, you are breaching your responsibilities under law, you are likely to affect the workers’ productivity, and you raise the risk of worker’s compensation insurance claims being made against you and your business.

You must take into account the requirements for adequate workplace lighting, seating, climate, floor coverings, hygiene, dining facilities, drinking water and toilet facilities. The Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) Union (the Union) has OHS information kits and staff members that can provide advice on these issues, so make the most of the available resources.

Worker’s Compensation is a mandatory insurance scheme that all companies must have to cover their workers – both factory and home-based, the details of which differs from state to state. If you employ workers directly you must ensure you have sufficient coverage in place to cover them

Beyond having your own worker’s compensation insurance in place, you need to ensure any other businesses that you sub-contract to also have sufficiently and legally covered the full number of workers they employ to produce your garments – again this includes homeworkers. If one of your suppliers fails to insure its workers adequately, an injured worker who has worked on your garments may place a claim against you or your business.

It is important to note that laws and regulations vary from state to state. For further information contact the Union and/or your local WorkCover authority:

VIC – WorkSafe

NSW – WorkCover

WA – WorkCover and WorkSafe

NT – WorkSafe

ACT – WorkSafe

TAS – WorkSafe and WorkCover

SA – WorkCover

What is superannuation and what are my obligations?

Superannuation is a compulsory retirement saving scheme. By law, all employers must make a minimum contribution of 9.5% to all of their workers’ nominated superannuation funds. Even if you engage workers who perform work away from your commercial premises, for example from their home, you are still required to pay superannuation.


I need a manufacturer or maker for my label, can Ethical Clothing Australia give me a recommendation?

If you are looking to have TCF product made onshore, there are various local manufacturing opportunities available. The manufacturers accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia can be found on our website listing.

Ethical Clothing Australia is not in a position to make direct referrals to individual manufacturers unless we are able to ensure fair and legal procedures are being followed within the framework of the ECA accreditation program. This is due to the diverse and changing nature of supply chains the fact that our organisation exits to aid and support businesses that are prepared to undertake a third-party verification to demonstrate that they are compliant with the relevant Australian workplace laws.

If your business is currently making clothing, footwear or textiles in Australia or going to commence soon, please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss what ECA accreditation might look like for your brand or label.