Commission worried about outworkers under IR rules
Brisbane's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission is deeply concerned about the impact of the Federal Government's workplace relations system on outworkers in the clothing industry.
The Commission's Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that WorkChoices may undermine a raft of protections for outworkers and make them more susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
"It has been a long struggle to get greater protection for outworkers and we are concerned that the new system will remove many of the protections which have been introduced in recent times," Mr Arndt said in a statement this week.
"Many outworkers are migrant women with limited English and they are often easily exploited," he said. "We know that this situation is not uncommon as quite a few clothing industry employers are before the Courts in Brisbane right now for allegedly breaching award provisions, he said.
"We have approached the Government to seek assurances about adequate protection for outworkers under the new system, but we have received no response," he added.
In recent months, the Commission has worked with Fairwear, a community organisation, to promote just pay and conditions for outworkers.
Fairwear has identified a number of major concerns about the effect of the new system on outworkers:
• Employers may be able to opt out of the outworker award provisions;
• Outworkers may be considered as "independent contractors" rather than as employees, making it possible for them to be pressured into agreeing to a contract which pays them poorly;
• The definition of an outworker is very narrow;
• The mechanisms that allow the comprehensive monitoring of the activities of companies through the whole clothing supply chain will be undermined;
• The onus for making a claim against an employer is placed on individual outworkers;
• Outworkers' ability to claim unpaid wages from the principle contractor when their boss disappears without paying will be removed.
"Catholic Social Teaching stresses the importance of work to the dignity of people and the rights of workers to fair pay rates and conditions," Mr Arndt said. "As witnesses to the Gospel, we cannot stay silent if these changes will make it more likely that the weakest in our community are working long hours doing skilled work for as little as $3 or $4 an hour," he said.
CJPC concerned about outworkers in new workplace relations system (Archdiocese of Brisbane 14/11/05)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Brisbane
Bruce Duncan: Churches set to clash with government over industrial changes (Online Catholics 16/11/05)
Church head concerned about IR laws (ABC Radio AM 14/11/05)
Tim Martyn: Industrial Relations - Reform or Vandalism? (Jesuit Social Services 14/11/05) [PDF]
16 Nov 2005