Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill 2011 [2012]; Second Reading

11:42 am

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Similarly, The Ark Clothing Co. claims, and I quote, Senator Bilyk:—

We have serious concerns that the amendments will inadvertently harm the very workers they seek to protect by restricting their ability to operate as independent and autonomous businesses. We believe that these amendments are responding to an outdated view of the industry, and that most of the workers this Bill seeks to protect do not see themselves as outworkers or employees, but as independent contractors working from home businesses.

Likewise, the Australian Industry Group states that the bill would:

… create a complicated web of laws for those in the textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) sector but furthermore the Bill is unbalanced and unfair on business.

I am drawn to repeat the phrase which Senator Fisher used earlier and say: what is it with Labor, that you take to industry with the vigour of a 'sledgehammer to a walnut'?

The Productivity Commission, in its final report on the review of the TCF assistance in June 2003, estimated that in 2003 not more than 25,000 people were working as outworkers in the TCF industry. For the same period, ABS data cited in the final report showed that around 58,000 people were directly employed in the industry. Using this data, the Productivity Commission came to the conclusion that outworker employment was about 40 per cent of total factory-based employment in the sector and exceeded factory-based clothing employment by about 25 per cent.

From this we can see that outworkers make up a significant proportion of those undertaking manufacturing work in the TCF sector. Ai Group goes on to state:

In circumstances where any business that operates in a supply chain which contains outworkers will find themselves legally liable for unpaid monies owed to those outworkers, it is conceivable that businesses will find this risk too great and either contractually prohibit the use of outworkers or cease manufacturing within Australia. Either scenario would be harmful to the Australian economy and the TCF sector.

This will export this country's jobs in conjunction with those jobs set to be lost due to the reckless and mindless carbon and mining taxes. The Labor Party has never seen an Australian success story that it does not want to tax, regulate or levy.

Under Labor's bill, union bully bosses will be able to come once again and extend their antiproductivity agenda into the Australian industry scene. The union movement is flexing its muscle here in parliament and forcing their backward vision upon the Australian economy. This bill comes at the same time that Labor has fundamentally undermined the construction industry by approving yesterday the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. This legislation appeases the left of the Labor Party in their ideological crusade that only damages Australia's productivity.

One of our most serious worries with Labor's bill is that the fair work agency will struggle to control the bullying union bosses when addressing complex issues in industries such as this. The Cole royal commission stands testament to what can happen when they take their eye off these union bullies. We must maintain our vigilance in the textile, clothing and footwear industry. This bill has the potential to enable the resurrection of misplaced union power and it will stifle Australian innovation and productivity gains in this highly competitive sector. True labour reform? Yes it is, with no view to the longer term sustainability of the clothing, textile and footwear industry.

When the coalition was in government we recognised the need for additional protections in the TCF industry and provided additional protections and safeguards. At the same time, the coalition also recognised the need for protections in the building and construction sector, leading to the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Ah—but it is now all back to the future with this dysfunctional Gillard-Brown Labor government!

At present, one of the core arguments of the government in abolishing the ABCC is that it discriminates against certain workers and that the industrial relations regime should take a one-size-fits-all approach. This bill clearly defies Labor's view in relation to the ABCC. Convincing evidence of endemic and inappropriate conduct within workplaces in this industry has been presented in submissions to this inquiry. The coalition has had a strong track record of maintaining protections for outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry in the various forms of workplace relations legislation between 1996 and 2007. With this reality central in our minds the coalition suspects that the government's central motivation for this amendment is to appease the trade union movement in the lead-up to the next federal election. The review of the Fair Work Act currently underway provides the best forum in which the provisions of this bill should be considered.

The coalition has received representations from many young and upcoming designers concerned about this bill. We support individual enterprise and innovation by those willing to take a risk to realise their potential. That is why we are concerned that genuine independent contractors or others could be unjustifiably covered and disadvantaged by this bill. The Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia has outlined such examples, and we worry that independent innovators in this industry will be held back.

The Fair Work Act allows for individual flexibility arrangements—IFAs, as they are known to us—to be made, which they say meet the genuine needs of the employee and the employer subject to complying with certain requirements. These include that the employee must be better off overall under the IFA. This bill appears to deny access to IFAs for outworkers whether they be in the TCF industry or not—the term 'flexibility' must not allow the effect of those outworker terms to be varied. This is also despite the better-off-overall test which ensures that IFAs cannot undercut outworker terms.

There are serious concerns from textile suppliers that business and jobs in garment construction may continue to disappear off­shore as the textiles and accessories are outsourced in the locations where the work is undertaken. This bill claims to be for the benefit of the TCF industry and all that work in it but it may, in fact, end up shipping their jobs offshore. This bill represents another piece of policy failure from the Labor gov­ernment. It is another burden on enterprise, just as the carbon tax, mining tax and the Fair Work Act have made it harder to do business in Australia and to provide jobs for the broader Australian public. Labor is hell-bent on driving Australia's competitiveness into the ground. The party that is meant to represent working Australians is imple­menting policy that will destroy the jobs it is meant to be championing. It is for these reasons I cannot support the bill.


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