- Article Title: Regulating supply-chains to address the occupational health and safety problems associated with precarious employment: The case of home-based clothing workers in Australia
- Title of Journal: Australian Journal of Labour Law
- Vol #: 17
Over the past 20 years the labour market, workforce and work organisation of most if not all industrialised countries have been significantly refashioned by the increased use of more flexible work arrangements, variously labelled as precarious employment or contingent work. There is now a substantial and growing body of international evidence that many of these arrangements are associated with a significant deterioration in occupational health and safety (OHS), using a range of measures such as injury rates, disease, hazard exposures and work-related stress. Moreover, there is an emerging body of evidence that these arrangements pose particular problems for conventional regulatory regimes. Recognition of these problems has aroused the concern of policy makers - especially in Europe, North America and Australia - and a number of responses have been adopted in terms of modifying legislation, producing new guidance material and codes of practice and revised enforcement practices.
This article describes one such initiative in Australia with regard to home-based clothing workers. The regulatory strategy developed in one Australian jurisdiction (and now being ‘exported’ into others) seeks to counter this process via contractual tracking mechanisms to follow the work, tie in liability and shift overarching legal responsibility to the top of the supply chain. The process also entails the integration of minimum standards relating to wages, hours and working conditions; OHS and access to workers’ compensation. While home-based clothing manufacture represents a very old type of ‘flexible’ work arrangement, it is one that regulators have found especially difficult to address. Further, the elaborate multi-tiered subcontracting and diffuse work locations found in this industry are also characteristic of newer forms of contingent work in other industries (such as some telework) and the regulatory challenges they pose (such as the tendency of elaborate supply chains to attenuate and fracture statutory responsibilities, at least in terms of the attitudes and behaviour of those involved). Thus, should it succeed, this regulatory strategy could serve as a model for intervention in relation to other industries with analogous work arrangements (and indeed some moves are already evident here). The article concludes that the use of tracking mechanisms as well as the potentially historically significant re-integration of three bodies of employment law (industrial relations, OHS and workers’ compensation and social security) warrants closer attention in terms of regulating contingent work arrangements.