Calls made for a ‘New Zealand-style’ approach which offers sex workers legal protection but concerns remain over ‘exploitation’
Lizzy Buchan and Harriet Agerholm Political Correspondent
Union leaders will vote on whether to back efforts to decriminalise prostitution to offer greater protection to sex workers.
Calls have been made for a ‘New Zealand-style’ approach where sex workers are offered full legal protection amid concern the current system pushes men and women into unsafe practices and leaves them vulnerable to crime.
A motion will be put to the vote at the TUC Congress on Wednesday, which has been backed by both Aslef and GMB unions, calling for “full decriminalisation” and demanding the same rights for sex workers as other workers.
However former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman intervened to condemn the move, saying it would “legitimise their exploitation”.
The influential Home Affairs Select Committee published a report last year calling for an end to the criminalisation of sex workers and said the Home Office should change the laws around soliciting and brothel-keeping, which would allow sex workers to share premises.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Debbie Reay, Chair of Aslef’s Women’s Representatives Committee, said: “It would seem the trade union movement is happy to defend any worker unless they’re a sex worker – because that appears to offend some people’s sensibilities.
“But the truth is you will never get rid of sex work and sex workers – people have been trying, and failing, for thousands of years – and we believe that sex workers, like other workers, need and deserve our protection.”
The motion points to a surge in on-street prostitution since 2010 and suggests that many people work in the industry due to “economic necessity rather than criminal coercion”.
Ms Harman posted on Twitter: “Noooooo! So wrong. TUC protect the vulnerable and exploited!
“Don’t legitimise their exploitation.”
She added: “Buying someone for sex is abuse. Should be a crime.
“Protect them by prosecuting the purchase of sex.”
The move was backed by the English Collective of Prostitutes, which is calling on workers in other industries to “put aside moralism or personal distaste” for sex work.
Niki Adams, from the ECP, said: “The TUC is rightly focussed on low wages and the public sector pay gap.
“Sex workers, like other workers are working to make a living and like other workers are organising for better pay, working conditions and occupational safety and health.
“The Aslef/GMB motion to decriminalise sex work is asking the trade union movement to back this sector of workers against criminalisation and police abuse.”
Delegates will vote on the motion on the final day of the TUC annual congress in Brighton.