I News: As sex workers, we deserve the same working rights as everyone else

Wednesday September 13th 2017
By The English Collective of Prostitutes

Prostitutes and activists from STRASS, an organization which considers itself as a ‘union for sex workers’, take part to a protest in front of the French Senate on June 2, 2014 in Paris. Prostitutes protested as the Senate was examining a recently passed controversial bill which criminalizes clients of prostitutes. French lawmakers on December 4, 2013 approved a controversial bill that will make the clients of prostitutes liable for fines starting at 1,500 euros ($2,000). AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

A motion will be put to the vote at the TUC Congress today, proposed by ASLEF the train drivers’ union and supported by the GMB, calling for “decriminalisation of sex work” and demanding the same rights for sex workers as other workers.

The motion recognises sex workers as workers who should have “the same rights as those in other industries.” It applies the trade union principle of supporting the efforts of workers within the industry to improve their working conditions. Agriculture is the UK’s most dangerous industry, with 167 deaths over the past year but no-one would sensibly propose that farming be banned.

Harriet Harman MP chose to intervene and tweeted her opposition saying that it would “legitimise their [sex workers] exploitation”.

Offended by what we do? Then give us an alternative

Four million children are living in poverty which means their mothers, the majority of sex workers, are distraught at the thought of how they will afford the next meal. One in five low-income mums skip meals to ensure their children eat. If a woman working in a brothel earns twice the wage for working in a shop, who is to say that she is more exploited? One woman described it this way:

“I can earn £240 for four hours. Worse case, I walk out with £60 and that’s still more than I would earn in a day job at £6 an hour. Last week my mum couldn’t afford a pair of school shoes for my brother. When I worked a day job I couldn’t help her, but now I can. If politicians are offended by the work we do, then give us the financial means to get out of the industry. “

The McDonald’s strikers did us all an enormous favour by spelling out the horrendous conditions now rampant in many industries: zero hour contracts and bullying and exploitative bosses. People working “full-time” hours at McDonald’s and unable to afford rent. No wonder thousands of women end up in sex work.

Harman also says buying sex is abuse. How insulting and demeaning to sex workers. It denies that sex workers, like other people, can distinguish between consenting sex and abuse. Like other workers, sex workers’ consent is conditional: if we don’t get paid, it’s forced labour.

Trafficking would still remain in place

From a worker’s point of view, criminalising clients spells disaster. Women have less time to check out clients, fearful of arrest. Swedish law which criminalises the buying of sex was found to “negatively impact sex workers”. Sex workers face increased stigma and are more vulnerable to violence and there is no evidence of a reduction in prostitution.

Claims that the motion would decriminalise pimping are red baiting. Pimping is a form of extortion, threats and violence and there are laws against that. Claims that the majority of sex workers are trafficked are false and in any case the law against trafficking would also remain in place.

Less fear reporting violence to police

In contrast, decriminalisation has been introduced in New Zealand with verifiable success. Over 90 per cent of sex workers said they had additional employment, legal, health and safety rights. 64.8 per cent found it easier to refuse clients and 70 per cent said they were more likely to report incidents of violence to the police. This should hold sway with trade unionists whose starting point has to be what workers say about their own jobs.

The motion calls for the abolition of the prostitution laws which force sex workers to work in isolation and therefore at greater risk of attack. Sex workers could more easily report violence without fear of prosecution. A woman in our group, who was attacked at knife point by five men, was ignored by police when she tried to report it but a few days later received a letter threatening her with prosecution for brothel-keeping. We campaigned to get the police to investigate the attack and to stop a subsequent deportation order against her.

Justice must extend to sex workers

The motion refers to “austerity measures” which have led to an increase in the number of people working in the sex industry and cites the example of Doncaster, where on-street prostitution has risen by 60 per cent, an increase primarily attributed to the impact of benefit sanctions.

The best of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell (and their vote winning manifesto) has committed itself to abolishing benefit sanctions, tackling zero hour contracts, addressing low wages and increasing the power of workers by scrapping repressive anti-trade union laws.

There is a new atmosphere of determination and hope at the TUC this year with people speaking about the possibility of winning better conditions for workers and justice against abusive employers. This must extend to sex workers.

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/crminialising-people-buy-sex-spells-disaster-sex-workers/