The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced the completion of a comprehensive review of the Homeworkers Code of Practice.

In Australia, a Homeworker is defined as someone who is employed in the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing industry, and works from premises of their choosing rather than an official workplace. Usually they will work from their own home.

According to Labour Behind The Label – a group that campaigns to improve the rights of workers in the clothing industry – homeworkers are susceptible to exploitation, and often have limited employment rights.

However, ACCC Commissioner Dr Jill Walker says the changes to the Homeworkers Code of Practice will help ensure Australian businesses are complying with their legal obligations when dealing with some of the country’s most vulnerable workers.

“On balance, the ACCC considers the Code is likely to result in net public benefits. The benefits of efficiencies in risk management of outsourced supply chains and of compliance with legal obligations to workers are likely to outweigh the detriments,” said Ms Walker earlier this month.

The ACCC has cited a review conducted by Paul Harpur of the University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law in 2007 which found that homeworkers often face poor OHS safety conditions involving poor lighting, exposure to hazardous dyes and bleaches and access to dangerous unguarded equipment.

In order to combat this, the ACCC has significantly extended the scope of the Homeworkers Code of Practice to include all workers operating in the clothing, textiles and footwear business. Previously, only outworkers in the clothing business had been covered.

Furthermore, the ACCC has “strongly recommended” that the Textile, Clothing & Footwear Union of Australia remain the auditor under the Code, as this group has sufficient power under legislation to properly assess and enforce the Code.

It is worth noting, however, that compliance with the Homeworkers Code of Practice is voluntary. Like all industries, businesses in the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing sector must take personal responsibility for the work health and safety of employees.

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