Clothing industry outworkers earn an average of only $3.60 an hour despite working more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, a new study showed.

The three-year research project and survey of 119 outworkers – mostly women of Vietnamese or Cambodian backgrounds – was conducted by Dr Christina Cregan of Melbourne University’s Department of Management.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the study demonstrated the need for award standards to stop exploitation of Australia’s 330,000 outworkers.

“The Howard Government is allowing widespread exploitation of outworkers by refusing to classify them as employees. Outworkers cannot enforce decent minimum pay and conditions without an award covering them as employees.

“Many outworkers are working virtually unlimited hours for very low wages, and nearly half of them have experience of unpaid wages that cannot be recovered,” Ms Burrow said.

“The Federal Government should follow the lead of New South Wales, where legislation is being introduced to classify outworkers as employees and give them the capacity to recover unpaid monies through the chain of contractors.”

Key findings of the study, Home Sweat Home, include:

  • outworkers earned an average $3.60/hour, and as little as 50 cents/hour;
  • outworkers averaged more than 12 hours a day, with 74% working between 12 and 19 hours a day;
  • 93% worked on school holidays, 91% on Saturdays, and 87% on Sundays;
  • 46% experienced unpaid wages, 75% had wages not paid on time;
  • 62% worked 7 days per week, 26% worked 6 days per week;
  • 68% relied on family members to help, 31% relied on children.

    The study, conducted in cooperation with the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union, will be launched at Melbourne University today (10.30am, Level 5, Room 506, Babel Building, via Gate 13 from Elizabeth St).