By Vannessa Hearman
MELBOURNE — The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) is prosecuting Nike and three other garment manufacturers (Swiss Model, Apple and Motto) in the Federal Court for alleged breaches of the industry award. Supporting the case, Fairwear campaign activists wore calico bags in front of the court on March 9. "We'd rather wear bags than clothes made through exploitation", said Fairwear coordinator Pamela Curr.
The union's action started last year. The alleged breaches include poor record keeping of work being given to outworkers and of payments. In an interview with community radio 3CR, Curr explained: "When the work is given out, there must be a written record of the dates of delivery and the amounts to be paid, and the companies [giving out work] should be registered. Outworkers deserve to have the same conditions as other workers."
Under pressure from other actions, a number of garment manufacturers have agreed to amend their breaches and sign a voluntary Homeworkers' Code of Practice. Nike says it has its own international code of practice and monitoring, but Curr argues that Nike's Australian operations should be in line with Australian labour practices.
Annie Delaney, a TCFUA organiser, told the Fairwear protesters at the court that the union is "not engaged in a publicity war against Nike", but is trying to improve the conditions of outworkers who produce the company's merchandise. According to Delaney, the solution is for Nike and other companies "to agree to follow the award and to sign the Homeworkers' Code of Practice".
The prosecution of 300 breaches of the award in 1997, and highly visible protests by Fairwear campaigners outside retail outlets which stock clothes made by outworkers, have pressured some manufacturers and retailers to sign the Homeworkers' Code of Practice. Fairwear's protests typically involve hanging large banners stating "Sweatshop of shame" in front of targeted retail outlets.
"Because these companies are targeting the lowest paid workers, such as women and children, they're driving down wages for all other workers as well", Curr said. Fairwear has linked up with groups in Canada, England and the United States to protest against Nike's labour practices.
The Workplace Relations Act introduced by the federal Coalition government could mean that this will be the last opportunity for the union to sue for breaches of the award.