Commission Welcomes Government Announcement on Outworkers

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has welcomed the announcement by Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, that the Government would accept the recommendations of a Senate Committee report on the impact of the Independent Contractors Bill on outworkers in the clothing industry.

The Bill is a follow-up to the WorkChoices legislation which came into force in March and is currently being considered by the Federal Parliament.

The Commission has been part of a national lobbying campaign on the Bill by groups associated with FairWear, an organization which campaigns for the rights of outworkers in the clothing industry.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the Commission saw the need to support efforts to ensure that very vulnerable workers were not open to greater exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

“Many outworkers in our State are women from non- English speaking backgrounds who make clothing at home,” Mr Arndt said.

“It is unacceptable that some employers intimidate these workers into accepting poor wages and conditions,” he said.

“Many States like Queensland provide protections for these outworkers in the relevant State industrial legislation, but the Independent Contractors Bill, as it stood, made it possible for unscrupulous employers to get around these protections by making outworkers agree to being classed as independent contractors rather than as employees,” he said.

“It made it possible for employers to force vulnerable workers to agree to poor pay rates,” he said.

“As a result of the efforts of organizations associated with FairWear, the Senate Committee looking at the new legislation made some recommendations to the Government which Mr Andrews accepted on behalf of the Government,” he said.

“We are very grateful to members of the Committee, led by Liberal Senator Judith Troeth, for understanding our concerns about outworkers,” he said.

“It is wonderful that Mr Andrews has accepted the Committee’s recommendations and we look forward to appropriate amendments being made to the Bill,” he said.

“The Commission facilitated the lobbying effort in Queensland and we are particularly grateful to Senator Barnaby Joyce for his help in the matter,” he said.

“While we are happy that outworker protections are going to remain, the Commission appeals to the Government to heed the concerns of Australia’s Catholic Bishops about the thrust of its workplace relations reforms,” he said.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

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