For many years the brothel industry in Victoria has struggled with its occupational health and safety obligations, not because it does not understand them but that it denies OHS laws are relevant as many in the industry continue to believe that sex workers are not employees. Some use a Tax Office ruling on employee status to support their argument against OHS.
A recent investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) seems to further illustrate the industry’s misunderstanding of employees. According to an FWO media release nineteen brothels, over 70% of brothels investigated, underpaid clerical staff around $A65,000 but of more relevance to OHS is that
“Some businesses were found to have misclassified employees as independent contractors.”
This was a position put by many brothel owners and industry lobbyists when I was consulting and writing about the industry almost a decade ago. For a long time OHS laws have extended beyond the employee/employer relationship to include those affected by the work being undertaken on the premises. The more modern Work Health and Safety laws go further by focussing on the work activity rather than the place of work.
As the OHS/WHS focus increases on psychosocial hazards – impairment, fatigue, stress etc – the adult entertainment industry has particular challenges; challenges that could be seen as threats or opportunities but certainly challenges that will not go away. It is very positive that the industry groups have agreed to support a specific website for the sex industry but now they need to start working seriously on complying with their OHS/WHS obligations through collaboration, consultation and innovation, instead of denial.
More on this industry and this topic can be found in an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article.