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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (20 November) . . Page.. 3806 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

Many outworkers have little or no educational qualifications, although some qualifications gained in their country of origin are not recognised here in Australia. Outworkers usually experience significant barriers to obtaining alternative employment. They feel trapped in a working situation that offers little relief, inadequate support and few opportunities for change. Debbie Carstens, representing Asian Women at Work, said:

We have seen people with machines in their laundry, their bathroom, their kitchen, their lounge room, their dining room and their garage. One woman has two machines in her bedroom-an overlocker and a sewing machine. They are often very dark and confined spaces with not much air and there is a lot of dust in the air from the cloth they are using.

There is no doubt that these women are some of the most exploited groups in the labour market. When they get work, it is for typically for 12 to 18 hours per day, seven days a week, for about a third of the award rate of pay, with no access even to the minimum conditions enjoyed by factory workers.

Governments Australia-wide have tried to implement some of the recommendations from the 1996 Senate committee report, and it is New South Wales that is leading the way. Following support for Ms Gallagher's motion, the ACT will be able to catch up.

The New South Wales Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Della Bosca, has secured a $4 million commitment per annum to the Behind the Label strategy, which aims at providing direct help to outworkers and promoting a fairer, stronger clothing industry in New South Wales. Behind the Label is backed by Australia's first laws to protect outworkers' rights and entitlements. The strategy also has the backing of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, the Australian Retailers Association, the Australian Industry Group, Australian Business Ltd and varying community organisations.

I support the amendment from Ms Tucker. We do not want just jurisdictional consistency. We do want the best possible protection for workers in the ACT. The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union does not have an ACT branch, so it is only right that the ACT government commit to a similar, if not better, program to ensure that outworkers in the ACT are protected.

We have seen the program in New South Wales work with success. The New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations has employed bilingual outreach workers to bridge the gap between outworkers in their local communities and government services. Increasingly, outworkers are coming forward and having their industrial issues documented and resolved. The 1800 hotline operated by the department in New South Wales has taken more than 100 calls seeking assistance and information.

In September a historic agreement was brokered through the New South Wales Government Ethical Clothing Trades Council with retailers and the unions. This agreement was a world first in tackling the problem of outworker exploitation. The code of practice signed in the parliament of New South Wales established the role and responsibilities of retailers in ensuring fair and decent labour practices in the clothing industry.

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