Fashion industry hopes for sustainable fit with new flexibility agreement

An agreement between five industry organisations could result in more flexible employment conditions in the fashion, textile and footwear manufacturing industries.

Industry groups, including the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia and the Textiles, Clothing & Footwear Union of Australia, put a proposal to the Fair Work Commission this week.

If approved by the FWC, the changes will see the minimum required hours for industry workers reduced by 25%, from 20 to 15 hours. These hours could be averaged over four weeks without penalty, unless more than 38 hours are done in one week.

New TFIA chief executive officer Richard Evans told SmartCompany this morning the proposed change reflects the increasing competition Australian clothing, footwear and textile manufacturers are facing globally.

“We as employers agree with the union that labour shouldn’t be underpaid,” he says, “But the industry has been over-regulated.”

Evans said the proposal was a step towards a more sustainable Australian manufacturing industry, which has suffered many years of decline. According to Evans, only 8% of textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing is done in Australia, with 92% of product imported.

“If we want to maintain some manufacturing in Australia, the industry needs some flexibility,” he says.

TCFUA national secretary Michele O’Neil told SmartCompany this morning that the union had been in talks for the past two years about the changes.

O’Neil said the TFIA had originally put forward more conditions that she was pleased were withdrawn, such as the introduction of casual hours, and for the ability of employers to enforce weekend work.

O’Neil said other groups involved in the agreement included Australian Business Industrial, Business South Australia and the Australian Industry Group.

A date for a decision by the FWC is yet to be announced.

The Australian fashion industry has been through a lean period in the past couple of years, with labels such as Lisa Ho and Kirrily Johnston collapsing, and others, such as Bettina Liano, heading overseas.

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