Outworkers in Australia

“Poor working conditions in the garment sector are not confined to low-wage countries. In Australia, the use of home-based outworkers in the cut make and trim stage of production is common. These are among the most marginalised and precarious workers. Over the past decade, state and federal inquiries have consistently found that outworkers receive payment and conditions significantly below their award and statutory entitlements (see for example, Productivity Commission 2003; Industry Commission 1997). In the Travelling Textiles report , Brotherhood of St Lawrence research in 2007 confirmed that conditions had worsened in the previous five years. Some outworkers reported they were paid as little as $2.50 for a detailed shirt which took one hour to sew, while others advised they were paid between $2 and $3 an hour (Diviney & Lillywhite 2007).”

From The Hub of Responsible Business Practice

“The Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia estimate that 50-70% of clothing made in Australia is outsourced, usually to migrant women working at home or in backyard sweatshops. The clothing industry in Australia is characterised by long contracting supply chains where designers and clothing labels contract work out to factories. These factories often then subcontract work out to other factories, backyard sweatshops or outworkers. Sometimes the work may have passed through 3 or 4 contractors and subcontractors before it finally reaches the hands of the person who will sew it together.”

Fairwear Australia

“Outworkers are almost always paid in piece rates, usually equating to $5-8 an hour, but sometimes as little as $3 an hour. The low rates of pay that outworkers receive, combined with routinely short deadlines, results in many outworkers having to work extremely long hours –sometimes around the clock, or 7 days a week. Outworkers typically receive no superannuation, annual leave or workers compensation, although they are entitled to these by law, and usually have to pay for their own machinery, tools and thread. These are some of the lowest paid and most exploited Australia workers, making clothes for fashion retailers, designers, and suppliers of uniforms.”

Fairwear Australia

“Some companies, however, do take active steps to minimise exploitation in their supply chain. In Australia the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union and some clothing industry representatives have formed an accreditation and labelling scheme called Ethical Clothing Australia, to tackle underpayment and poor conditions in the Australian clothing industry. To become accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia, clothing businesses take practical steps to keep their Australian-based supply chains transparent and ensure that they and any sub-contractors are compliant with the relevant Australian laws. Once compliant, accredited brands are licensed to display the Ethical Clothing Australia trademark on their Australian-made products, providing consumers and buyers with a way to identify and support Australian textile clothing and footwear products which have been made by companies who pay their workers a fair wage and provide decent conditions.”

Fairwear Australia

  • See out workers stories at Fairwear campaign
  • Take action and send emails to your Member of Parliament, expressing your concern at this dismantling of protections for outworkers.
  • Learn more and hear first hand accounts with the FairWear Outworker Radio Plays (audio stories on resources page)
  • See Ethical Clothing Australia’s Accredited manufacturers and Retail signatories (to the National Retailers Ethical Clothing Code)