New work laws hit fashion industry

Joanne Rapa is concerned about the new government workplace regulations.
Joanne Rapa is concerned about the new government workplace regulations. Blainey Woodham

NORTH Coast fashion designers are worried changes to workplace laws could cripple the local industry and force jobs offshore.

The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry Bill 2011 was created to protect outworkers and sweatshop workers from exploitation, but Byron Bay designer Joanne Rapa said the changes will make it difficult for her to hire a local seamstress and cutter through her label Myrtle and Dove.

Ms Rapa said under the changes she must now engage contractors as employees and provide them 20 hours a week of work.

"I give the cutter 30 garments which takes him two hours to cut, so for me to give him 20 hours work is just not possible, especially as a start-up business," Ms Rapa said.

Sean Watson, the co-owner of eco-fashion label Pure Pod, said he's unsure if his home-based business in Lennox Head can still hire contract machinists.

"The government has decided these people don't have the right to run a business from their homes so if we use them we could be landed with some pretty hefty fines," Mr Watson said.

A Facebook page called Save the Australian Fashion Industry has been launched to highlight the issue.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) said the changes provide protection for "some of Australia's most hard-working and vulnerable workers".

"The amendments do not unfairly target individual contractors working from home," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the changes give textile, clothing and footwear workers the same entitlements and protections as factory workers.

"Only those that flout existing laws by exploiting outworkers, by forcing them to work in sweatshop conditions and by taking advantage of the vulnerable, should be concerned," the spokesperson said.

But Mr Watson said the local fashion industry has "been tarred" by the efforts to target sweatshops.

"It's pushing small business overseas," he said.


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Topics:  fashion designers north coast

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