High End Fashion, Low End Ethics – Blossom Road Clothing Workers take action, 20 June 2011

Workers clutching sacks of 'money' outside Scanlan & Theodore shop

Former employees of Blossom Road knitwear factory assembled today outside Melbourne Town Hall before marching to the Scanlan & Theodore boutique in Little Collins Street in company with representatives of the Textile Clothing and Footware Union of Australia,including State Secretary Michele O’Neil. They were intent on shaming the company for its complicity in the actions of the director of Blossom Road Pty Ltd, which went into liquidation on May 19, with employees losing almost $520,000 in entitlements, including unpaid wages, annual and long service leave, notice and redundancy pay, and employer superannuation contributions. According to the TCFUA, some workers had also made voluntary superannuation payments of up to $50 per week, deducted from their pay, but this money had not been paid into their super fund. The company claimed to be unable to pay what it owed, but nevertheless reopened under another name at the same premises on May 20, with some of the terminated employees asked to resume work. Scanlan & Theodore, which had been the sole client of Blossom Road, was continuing to get their product made by the ‘new’ company.
“This new company looks like it’s being run by the sole director of Blossom Road and members of his family,” said Ms O’Neil. “This appears to be a case of ‘phoenix trading’ and that’s why we will be taking our concerns straight to the retail outlet Scanlan & Theodore” at lunchtime today.”
“The high end fashion brand Scanlan & Theodore must come forward and demonstrate they will not tolerate the low end ethics of their supplier.”

(From TCFUA media release)

Michele O'Neil speaking in front of the protesters at the store

Workers assembled as planned outside the Town Hall, along with flag-bearing unionists and other supporters, before making their way down Little Collins Street to chants of “Scanlan and Theodore, Shame on you”. Also in the group was “Bill”, representing the owner, clutching a sack of money – later, outside the store, ‘he’ was to seize still more sacks from the workers. Michele O’Neil explained the background and reasons for the action for the benefit of the media and bystanders, noting also that the union had no quarrel with the shop workers inside, and one of the sacked workers also told her story.

Workers assemble at Town Hall -"'Bill" with sacks of money

One of the workers at the megaphone

'Bill' seizing money bags from the workers

Money grabbing

End Mandatory Detention – Rally and March 7 November 2010

Banner at head of march - End Mandatory Detention

Several hundred people took part in a rally and march organised by the Refugee Advocacy Network to demand an end to the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat. MC Pamela Curr introduced a series of strong speakers, including a late addition to the list in the person of Malalai Joya, former member of the Parliament of Afghanistan now in exile:

Malalai Joya speaking

Her speech can be heard in full in this YouTube video:

Other speakers included Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young:

Sarah Hanson-Young

Amongst other things Senator Hanson-Young said we are not yet anywhere near bringing in a more humane approach to dealing with the needs of asylum seekers. Although the government has now admitted that it does detain children and has undertaken to start to release them ‘over time’, this was a good start, ‘but nowhere near where we need to be.’ She recalled how she came to politics in 2001 over this issue, and with the election of the labor government in 2007 had thought she needed to look for another focus: ‘But since 2007 we have learned pretty quickly that promises are broken.’
She referred to the recent visit of Opposition leader Tony Abbot to Adelaide ‘to whip up fear around having a detention facility that would house families in the Adelaide hills.’ She did not believe there should be mandatory detention at all, ‘but I also do not believe that whipping up fear around the idea of having asylum
seekers in the Adelaide hills … is a responsible thing for a leader to do.’ It was time to take the politics out of it [this issue], there needed to be a consensus of all parties ‘that making politics out of the lives of vulnerable people is not right, it shouldn’t bring you votes, and we all should be a bit bigger than that…’

Next was Michele O’Neil, State Secretary, TCFUA – a union much involved with migrant women in particular:

Michele O'Neil

‘The union that I represent has a proud history of having within its ranks , within its membership, many many people that arrived in Australia as refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.’ But it was not just the TCFUA which benefitted from this diversity, rather the whole country, ‘because the workers of Australia are a migrant people who have joined with our Indigenous population to create the land we have today.’ It was therefore an extraordinary thing that we should be having this debate about how to treat current arrivals when so many of our ancestors, families and neighbours arrived in similar ways. She emphasised the need for a total ban on mandatory detention, notr piecemeal changes to policy. She acknowledged the positive step of the recent announcement about releasing children, but stressed that it was not due to take effect immediately, but by the middle of 2011, and applied only to ‘the majority’. What was there to be fearful of that it should take so long? And what did it mean to say ‘the majority’ rather than all? And the terms under which these people were to be released did not allow them to work, move freely, or choose where to live. ‘This is not living in the community in an normal sense,’ not even a return to the position pre-1993. ‘It is still a very small change to what is a fundamentally unjust and unfair system.’ And why was it needed? What was
driving the fear, paranoia and xenophobia? She read some of the facts regarding the numbers seeking asylum in Australia compared to the rest of the world, eg that in 2009 Australia received 0.6% of asylum seekers worldwide; that of 377,160 applications in 44 industrialised countries Australia received only 6170, which was 1.6%. So ‘this fear is based on inaccurate information and myth …. people that want to divide the people of this country instead of bringing us together.’ And this is also, this is an issue which she and her union care about and speak about: ‘We care about it because it is about the same fundamental issues – if you care about fighting for justice, if you care about people’s rights, if you care about the right for people in the workplace to be treated with dignity and respect and to be safe, you have to care about how it is that we treat people who are fleeing some of the worst and most terrible situations that you can imagine, looking for refuge, looking for asylum, who arrive in our land and who we then lock up…’

Pamela Curr read a message from Tamil refugees still detained in Indonesia (see media release from the support group RISE) in a centre paid for by Australian taxpayers (this message is posted as MP3 on Melbourne Indymedia), before introducing Malalai Joya – see above – who was followed by Hong Lim, State Labor MP and representative at the rally of the Indo-Chinese community:

Hong Lim speaking

He had come to Australia as a refugee from Cambodia 40 years ago ‘at a time when everybody was so caring and sharing, but 40 years later I must say that some people will try to break that tradition.’ He referred to the post-WWII arrival of more than one million refugees – ‘ask the Jewish community here’ – and the generosity of Austrlians in raising proportionately more than seven times as much in donations to help Cambodian refugees than the British at the time. But now in BRitain there are more than 80,000 asylum seekers and refugees, ‘and here we 4000 and some people jumping up and down complaining’ with talk of an ‘invasion’. He suggested people should look at Springvale, Richmond and Footscray ‘to see what the
Indo-Chinese [refugees] have proven themselves’. They contribute significantly to the economy and are the link to China, Vietnam and so on. We could not allow politicians to poison our minds, our traditions, our customs, our honour any more ‘We must fight them every inch of the way, because they are wrong. They are wrong.’

Brian Walters SC, Greens candidate for the seat of Melbourne, was the last of the speakers before the march:

Brian Walters speaking

He began his address with the words ‘My fellow boat people’ and the opening words of the national
anthem: ‘Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and [pause] free…’ This was one of the values we proclaim, a love for freedom ‘and when people take is at our word, fleeing unimaginable persecution, and come here asking for our help … we lock them up in mental illness factories in remote places behind razor
wire.’ We also value the rule of law, but have decided that it does not apply to whole areas of the country – the excised regions. He was scornful of those who talk about ‘border protection’ – ‘as if people coming wanting the protection of our borders threaten [them].’ ‘When people come across the sea they bring with
them boundless riches that we can share. They enrich our community and what a great day it will be when we end this evil misery of mandatory detention, which is such a stain on our nation [applause]. And then we can really sing that we can “advance Australia fair”‘.

There followed a march down Swanston Street to Federation Square:

Gilios speaking at Federation Square

Gilios, himself a West Papuan refugee, spoke of the work of RISE, an organisation supporting Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, but first asking for a minute’s silence in memory of a young member of his community who had been killed in a car accident a few days before….

Sister Brigid speaking

Last speaker was Sister Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, who described her visits to young Hazaras in the little-known Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre and families in the Maribyrnong Detention Centre. Her address, which was very compelling, is available as an MP3 on Melbourne Indymedia.

The rally ended with an emphatic statement of the core demand, followed by a lineup of banners:

Lineup on steps at Federation Square

FairWear action on school uniforms – 16 August 2010

Students in front of store with banner - Uniform Failure...

Students, staff, and parents from Brunswick West Primary School joined FairWear campaigners and members of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia in an action highlighting that school’s commitment to ethical uniforms, with a follow-up at the Thomastown outlet of BuxWear, where they awarded the company a ‘Fail’ report card for its use of sweatshop labour.

The purpose of the action was twofold: to shame those who who are not doing the right thing, but equally to show that there is a better option, and to give credit to those who are choosing to take it. As one of the students, her jumper carrying the Ethical Clothing Australia logo, said at the start “I’m glad my school decided to buy the jumpers of a company that pays their workers fairly. I think all companies should do the same thing.”

School Principal Louise Chocholis also spoke briefly: “The things that we believe” she said “we should live… The community really does believe that people should be paid properly.” Which is why it was important that school uniforms should be ethically endorsed, and indeed, all our clothes…

From a Media Release issued by FairWear:

Uniform Failure, Kids Demand Ethical Uniforms

100 Workers Kept in Sweatshop Conditions

A Melbourne uniform manufacturer has been flagrantly breaking Australian laws by not ensuring garment workers in its supply chain receive fair legal minimum wages and conditions.

BuxWear, a uniform manufacturer, also trading as Dandy Schoolwear and Norman W Buck & Co Pty Ltd is based in Dandenong. It also operates a store, BuxWear Direct, at 218 Settlement Rd, Thomastown.

Recent investigations have revealed that this manufacturer is in breach of minimum legal conditions for outworkers making garments. FairWear Campaign & Education Officer, Mr Riley, said, “BuxWear was prosecuted in 2005 for breaching the outwork & related provisions contained in the Award. Now they are at it again.”

“Not only are workers in the supply chain not receiving the minimum wage but they do not receive any annual leave, sick leave or superannuation contributions”, said FairWear’s Mark Riley. “We call on BuxWear to ensure the workers in this supply chain receive their full entitlements now.”

FairWear advocates that manufacturers and retailers join the Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation scheme (formerly known as No Sweatshop label).

“BuxWear should demonstrate to school communities that it is treating workers in its supply chain fairly. Once they start to comply with the law, BuxWear will be just one step away from being accredited under the Ethical Clothing Australia label,” Mr Riley said.

“No parent would knowingly choose to dress their kids for school each day in clothes made under sweatshop conditions” said Mark Riley.

Many schools are making a clear choice to only source uniforms from ethical companies. Brunswick South West Primary is one school which wishes to wear its principles.

Students, staff and campaigners line up outside the school

Michele O'Neil and others outside the school

The TCFUA's Michele O'Neil was one of those who got there early ...

Ethical Clothing Australia label on students' jackets

The Ethical Clothing Australia label

Student with placard - We care for Fair Wear

Students arrive at store with 'report card'

Arriving at the store in Thomastown with the 'report card'

Giving the company the 'thumbs down'

Thumbs down for BuxWear

A shorter version of this report was published on Melbourne Indymedia, where there is also a short downloadable Flash video from the action.

See also:

Ethical Clothing Australia