West Australian moves on sex work law neglect OHS

Australia has an enviable occupational health and safety record in its licensed brothels.  A recent sex work symposium in Melbourne restated the fact that sex workers have a lower presentation of sexually transmitted diseases than the public.  One Queensland brothel, Purely Blue, states:

“Safety and Quality are very important to us and we are proud to be one of a small number of businesses in Australia, that have achieved dual certification of their Occupational Health & Safety (AS/NZS 4804:2001) and Quality (AS/NZS ISO 9001:2000) Management Systems.

Purely Blue is believed to be the first boutique brothel in the world to have its Management Systems certified by a national body.

Purely Blue was the proud recipient of a Highly Commended Award in the National Safety Council of Australia/ Telstra National Safety Awards of Excellence in the category of “Best Implementation of an OH&S Management System”. This is believed to be the first time that a boutique brothel has received such recognition anywhere in the world.”

In June 2011, the Western Australian Government again attempted to legalise sex work, or as it continues to call it, prostitution.  But on the issue of workplace safety for sex workers, the Prostitution Bill 2011 seems to be seriously out of date and out of touch.  It is significant that this bill is being introduced by a Conservative government.  The emphasis on “prostitution” rather than the softer and more accurate term “sex work” reflects the ideology behind the legislation.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has stated that

“The bill aims to provide police, government and the community the necessary tools to finally crackdown on illegal prostitution in residential suburbs…”

The video above shows that the bill is principally concerned with the control of illegal brothels through planning measures and enforcement and contrary to one media report on the Bill, there is nothing in the proposed laws that will increase the safety of sex workers.  The only health mention in the bill pertains to sexually transmitted infections and only in relation to the transference of the an infection from worker to client, not the other way round, which is where the greater risk exists.

There is no mention of the words “safe” or “workplace” in the bill.

Previous Western Australian attempts to legalise sex work tried to address the occupational health and safety needs of sex workers.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that WorkSafe WA had almost no involvement in the development of the current bill whereas previous bills had a great deal of involvement, even to the extent of developing a Code of Practice for the sex industry.

The previous attempt at sex work legislation in Western Australia stemmed from a Report of the Prostitution Law Reform Working Group in January 2007.  That report contained sensible and progressive OHS recommendations such as:

  • “Measures be included in the proposed legislation to promote positive health practices and require that certain minimum health and safety requirements be maintained by operators of sexual services businesses, sex workers and clients.
  • Occupational safety and health requirements under the occupational health and safety legislation continue to apply. Worksafe perform educative and enforcement functions in relation to occupational health and safety issues within the industry.
  • The Department of Health work in partnership with Worksafe and non-government outreach organizations to disseminate information and education to persons involved in the sex industry. The Department of Health, Worksafe and the organizations, in consultation with relevant stakeholders in the industry, develop a code of practice to be followed in the industry.
  • Sex workers be afforded a statutory right to refuse to provide, or to continue to provide, a commercial sexual service to any other person despite anything in a contract for the provision of commercial sexual services.”

The current proposed legislation may reduce the number of illegal brothels through the licensing of brothels but the experience in the eastern states of Australia is that unlicensed/illegal brothels continue to proliferate even when there exists a licensed industry.

What is required is for the WA Government to plan beyond this current  legislation and to consider what would be required in a “new world” of licensed brothels.  The brothel operators will need guidance on how to meet their OHS obligations, how to minimise sprains and strains, occupational violence and other workplace issues that have emerged in States with legalised brothels.  If the WA Government has accepted the reality that sex work will forever be an element of that State’s culture (a reality that is lauded as a heritage and tourist attraction in the Western Australian goldfields) through licencing brothels, it needs to apply the same OHS obligations and expectations on the licensees as apply to any other legitimate business.

Perhaps it is time for Purely Blue to launch a franchise outside of its Queensland operations.

Kevin Jones

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