By Vannessa Hearman
MELBOURNE — Fairwear, which campaigns for clothing outworkers' rights, held an action-planning workshop on July 10.
Annie Delaney, a Textile Clothing Footwear Union of Australia organiser, said the TCFUA National Outwork Information Campaign was launched in 1994 following the release of the union's report The Hidden Cost of Fashion, which documented the working conditions of outworkers.
The report led to a Senate inquiry into outwork in the garment industry, initiated by the Democrats. The inquiry received hundreds of submissions on the conditions of outworkers. Since then, several retailers have signed both an agreement with the union and the Homeworkers' Code of Practice.
Pamela Curr, coordinator of Fairwear, noted that the government's restriction of awards to 20 allowable matters threatened to erode the conditions of outworkers even further. The TCFUA is fighting in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to maintain three clauses within the Clothing Trades Award which protect outworkers. This year, the IRC ruled that all the clauses should be retained.
Since its formation, Fairwear has "named and shamed" manufacturers and retailers through high-profile public actions and a shame file of those who have not agreed to the Homeworkers' Code of Practice.
In May, Fairwear activists targeted Nike. Activists appeared in their underwear at a Motto outlet, crying out that they "would rather wear nothing than wear exploitation". Similarly, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union members in Sydney stripped to their hard hats, boxer shorts and work boots outside a Jeans West store.
Delaney and Curr said many companies agreed to sign the code after hearing that similar protest actions were planned for their stores. Similar actions have been used to recover wages owed to outworkers.
In November, Fairwear released the film Twenty Pieces which documents the working conditions of outworkers in Australia. It also shows many of the protest actions undertaken by Fairwear and the TCFUA.
The workshop discussed possible actions, including a protest by Network of Women Students in Australia conference participants outside the Nike superstore in Melbourne on July 17 to demand better working conditions for Nike workers here and overseas. Other plans involve protesting during Melbourne Fashion Week and the Melbourne Cup in November. The outcome of the case brought against Nike in the Federal Court by the TCFUA for breaching the Clothing Trades Award could also be a focus for action.
To get involved in the Fairwear campaign, phone Pamela Curr on (03) 9251 5200.