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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (20 November) . . Page.. 3796 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

Being a daughter in a working family means devoting free time to help with the work. Children of outworker families do not have much freedom or time to go out as often as children of normal families. On weekends when I want to go out with friends I have to check whether there is work needed doing at home. If there is, I'd have to stay at home to do it.

In Australia today, there are an estimated 329,000 outworkers employed in the manufacturing of material, the sewing of garments, the altering of fashion labels, the stitching of sneakers and the embroidery of clothing. They are not low-skilled workers, many having extensive experience in the industry. Despite their numbers, outworkers and the practice of outwork remain hidden from public view and often hidden from public criticism.

One of the numerous reports on the industry, the report of the New South Wales pay equity inquiry, found that outworkers are treated oppressively in their ordinary working lives and exploited in both the payment received and the conditions of work. The circumstances of their work are disgraceful.

Under the federal award, an outworker is supposed to receive the same rate of pay as a factory worker. The rates vary, but a good indication of the award standard is $12.38 per hour for a mid-skilled worker and $14.91 for a high-skilled worker. Outworkers have a legal right to these rates of pay. The award standard recognises their skill, the arduous nature of their work and the significant health and safety risks they take by being employed in clothing production.

Disgracefully, the norm for outworkers is that these conditions are not often met and not often enforced. Evidence suggests that outworkers receive, on average, just $3.60 per hour and some receive as little as 50c per hour. Evidence would also indicate that non-compliance is the norm rather than the exception in this industry.

These people are not unskilled workers. They are professional tailors and machinists. Working against them are their backgrounds and their gender. The vast majority of outworkers are new to this country. They often have poor English skills, and they are most often firmly disadvantaged in employment, family income and access to capital.

They are also overwhelmingly women, and sexual harassment is an issue in the industry. There is also evidence that children are involved in this industry, some as young as seven years old. Michael Quinlan, from the University of New South Wales, says 7 per cent of outworkers have been physically assaulted and almost half have been threatened with physical assault.

Occupational health and safety conditions in the industry are also appalling. Because of the conditions of employment, where an ordinary suburban house is converted into a virtual factory, outworkers are at threat from electrocution or long-term illness from exposure to cotton dust. Remember that these people are working sometimes with eight sewing machines in their house, with no dust extractors and working with toxic materials. Hidden from public view and scrutiny, who will enforce the law for these people?

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