Australian clothing manufacturers under fire over wages

clothing

The Fair Work Ombudsman is auditing hundreds of businesses nationally after finding a lack of awareness of the minimum pay rates that apply to workers who make clothes, bags and footwear in factories and their homes.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has released a report on the findings and insights gained from the initial education phase of its national Textile, Clothing and Footwear campaign.

The Fair Work Ombudsman interacted with workers and business operators at all levels of the clothing, footwear and textiles supply chain, including retailers, wholesalers, fashion houses, merchant distributors, contractors, factory workers and outworkers.

These interactions revealed limited understanding or observation among business operators of their obligations under workplace laws, including minimum pay rates that apply to workers involved in the manufacturing process. The interactions also revealed confusion about how compliance and regulation interacts with different levels of the supply chain.

In response to the findings, the Fair Work Ombudsman is auditing more than 365 clothing, textile and footwear manufacturing businesses nationally as the campaign moves into the second phase.

“We identified a strong need to follow-up the clothing manufacturing businesses we educated during the initial phase of the campaign with audits to ensure they are meeting workers’ minimum lawful entitlements,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

“We are conscious that there are many overseas and migrant female workers in this sector who can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their rights or reluctant to complain, so it’s important we are proactive about checking they are receiving their full entitlements.

“We have also found that there is pressure on the price of local production which has rendered those at the lower levels of the varied and fragmented supply chains in this sector particularly vulnerable,” said James.

A fundamental issue business operators and workers had been educated on during the campaign is that clothing manufacturing workers are lawfully entitled to minimum hourly rates of pay.

“It’s common for workers involved in making clothes, bags and footwear to work from home but that doesn’t mean they should be paid less than people who do work from a factory,” said James.

“It’s also important that employers realise that minimum lawful pay rates are non-negotiable and they apply to everyone, regardless of nationality and visa status.”

The large majority of employers in the clothing, footwear and textile manufacturing sector industry are small businesses, who are less likely to have dedicated or in-house support for human resource and payroll matters, according to James.