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The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) has launched Federal Circuit Court proceedings against the companies behind leading fashion labels for alleged breaches of important legal obligations to protect outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry.

The union will allege that 23 clothing companies failed to comply with their legal obligations under the Clothing Trades Award 1999 and/or the Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award 2010.

Slater and Gordon industrial lawyer Kath Fawcett, acting on behalf of the TCFUA, said that these legal obligations were aimed at making the complex supply chains in the clothing industry more transparent, and applied to all clothing companies who make clothes in Australia.

“There is no excuse for companies operating in the clothing industry to turn a blind eye to their obligations, turn a blind eye to the women and men who make their clothes and the conditions they make them under.

“When companies do not comply with these obligations, there is no way of ensuring that outworkers at the end of these contracting chains receive their legal minimum wages and conditions,” Ms Fawcett said.

“These provisions have been in place for many years. Their importance has been affirmed and reaffirmed by governments, courts and the Fair Work Commission.

“Research shows that these important award provisions are finally beginning to have a positive effect by improving the working conditions and lives of outworkers. But there are still many companies in the industry ignoring their obligations and refusing to take responsibility for the people who make their clothes,” she said.

If the claims are made out, the court can order penalties of up to $51,000 for each breach after 28 December 2012 and $33,000 for each breach before that date.

In TCFUA v Southern Cross [2006] FCA 325, the Federal Court of Australia recognised that:

“Outworkers in the clothing industry in Australia are some of the most exploited people in the Australian workforce. They perform garment making work often at absurdly low rates in locations outside their employer’s premises. This frequently occurs in the homes of outworkers.”

For many years Slater and Gordon has assisted the TCFUA in bringing actions of this kind to try and clean up an industry notorious for exploitation.

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