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News News Underpaid outworkers behind the glamour
On a wage of $3.60 an hour, the average Australian clothing industry outworker would have to work for 10 months to afford the Jayson Brunsdon dress modelled by Jennifer Hawkins last month.

More of Brunsdon's label is on show at this week's Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, but behind the glamorous face of the industry are thousands of underpaid workers.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence releases its Ethical Threads report on the opening day of Fashion Week, arguing that many Australian companies are ignorant about how their garments are made.

The report reveals government inquiries over the past decade have consistently found outworkers endure conditions well below their legal entitlements and the problem is getting worse.

The report says the average outworker earns $3.60 per hour, works 12 hours a day and is likely to work seven days a week.

"If we work eight hours a day, five days a week, we would only earn $100 so it is not enough," one worker quoted in the report said.

That amounts to 10 months pay to buy the $4,000 Brunsdon hand-beaded gown Hawkins wore on the catwalk in August.

Or a bit over a month for the $479 Yeojin Bae designer dress the former Miss Universe wore last month to promote Fashion Week.

The charity's report found garment manufacturing in Australia was structured around outsourcing, with sewing commonly performed by migrant women with low English skills.

Report co-author Emer Diviney said companies were wrong if they believed consumers didn't care how clothing was manufactured.

Local outworkers interviewed for the report said working conditions were worse than five years ago.

Conditions for garment outworkers overseas - mostly in China and India - who supply the Australian market, were often worse.

The report states that most small-to-medium enterprises, which account for 80 per cent of the industry, believed they were too small to ensure their clothes were manufactured ethically.

Ms Diviney praised the companies, unions, workers, non-government organisations, peak industry groups, government and universities which participated in the report.

"They have been highly responsible in contributing to a report that spotlights problems in their industry and by doing so show their commitment to improving workers' conditions," she said.

A key recommendation of the report is a pilot ethical manufacturing centre for small businesses and outworkers, to streamline work flow, establish legal minimum working conditions, run training courses in technical skills for outworkers and give small labels an ethical-production option.

 
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