Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
A Recipe for Conflict
After the Accident
Cuba - the Debate Continues
Greetings from Japan
Just Doing It
Barry Tubner is not the most trendy individual in Sydney and it would be a stretch, to say the least, to imagine him in some of the flouroscent gym wear on the market these days.
But the well-padded union man has just buttoned-up Nike to a ground breaking Deed, protecting clothing workers from exploitation, and has shifted his sights to Sea Folly, the queen of leotard chic.
Coming into focus are a host of big-name sports bodies and the companies that manufacture their top-dollar jumpers, shorts, socks, jackets and most anything else that can attach itself to a part of the human anatomy.
No wonder Tubner and his NSW Labor Council off-sider, Chris Christodoulou, are drooling.
Tubner ticks off the new targets - the NRL and manufacturers like Puma and Classic; the ARU, AFL, ACB, Soccer Australia.
This month's Nike sign-off on the Sports and Corporate Wear Ethical Clothing Deed, marks a milestone on a long road for Tubner, Christodoulou and tens of thousands of predominantly female Australians they aim to protect.
Tubner was around when the campaign kicked off eight years ago with clothing manufacturers basically telling the unions they could go and get swooshed.
The aim has been to close down sweat shops paying workers as little as $2 an hour and bring everyone, outworkers included, under minimum protections offered by the Clothing Trades Award.
There have been successes of varying magnitude along the track. NSW's Ethical Clothing Trades Council, a retailers code and last year's NRL agreement all helped lift the bar.
As the Federal Government stripped back protections and regulatory checks it became obvious to everyone, with the possible exceptions of Blind Freddy and Miranda Devine, that the only organisation willing and able to police safeguards was the union whose members' jobs swung on some standards of decency.
Basically, that's what the Nike Deed delivers and, Tubner suggests, it might provide a tactical pointer to workers battling similar rorts in other industries.
First and foremost, the agreement is a legally binding deed, rather than a voluntary code like most previous tilts at the clothing industry windmill.
Under its terms, Nike accepts that everyone in Australia producing its product, irrespective of location, must receive wages and conditions outlined in the Clothing Trades Award, as a minimum.
Further, it agrees, the union will be authorised to police the situation, giving it, amongst other things, the right to ...
- enter the premises of any supplier without notice
- check wages books
- interview employees
- carry out OH&S inspections
Tubner says the "no notice" provision is a must because fly-by-nighters will try it on.
"If we have to give 24 hours notice the bad employer will have changed the circumstances to hide the facts," he says, "it's self-defeating. Twenty four hours notice is the difference between finding 20 workers and two.
"It's a hindrance to finding the truth. The only people who benefit from it are the crooks."
The clincher, though, for the union is that Nike agrees that the Deed will become part of its contractual arrangements with future suppliers. In other words, contractors will sign off, not just on the status of the award but also the union's enforcement role.
Failure to allow entry, inspection, safety checks or to provide wage records would constitute a breach of the supplier's contract with Nike.
Right about now, warning lights would be flashing in Tony Abbott's brain. We're talking all the buzz phrases that make him see red - third party involvement in contracts, union powers, strengthening awards, in short, regulation.
This is where Tubner suggests the Nike Deed might be worthy of wider consideration.
"Effectively," he says, "it moves compliance from the Industrial Relations arena to contract law.
"Naturally unions are more confortable working in an IR situation but as a hostile Federal Government changes that system against workers' interests, maybe it is legitmate to look at other tools to achieve our ends."
Nobody, least of all Tubner or Christodoulou, suggest the deed will clean up the industry, fullstop. It is, however, another pressure point, especially on the public relations battleground.
There is little doubt that Nike has taken a big hit from the consumer-driven approach to labour standards, courtesy of outrageous exploitation uncovered in the developing world.
Tim Conner from Oxfam Community Aid Abroad's watchdog, Nike Watch, gives the Deed a tick, while pointing out its limitations.
"In terms of Nike's production in Australia it is an important step forward because Nike will make available information about its suppliers and how much they are paying," Conner says.
"But there is still a lot of concern about its international practices.
"It's meaningful because Nike has to source a certain level of product from close to its market for flexibility reasons. They would probably need three or four hundred people involved in garment production in Australia but they might have half a million in Asia and Latin America."
The question for Nike, Conner says, is why it promotes an international code guaranteeing workers' rights to organise then sources most product from regions of Asia and Latin America where it is illegal to organise?
Nevertheless, he concedes, there has been positive change at the company.
"Up until a year or so ago they were primarily responding from a public relations perspective but, more recently, Nike has made real improvements in some of their procedures, even if there is still a way to go."
For better or worse, then, Nike has shown itself susceptible to pressure on its reputation, the brand name that conquered the world.
Other major players in the commercial world have similar concerns while, to be effective, the Sports and Corporate Wear Ethical Clothing Deed, needs to extend well beyond Nike.
Tubner looks down his target list, thinks footy finals, Rugby World Cup, and permits himself the briefest of grins.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online