Sex Work review includes many OHS matters

The Victorian Government has announced a review of the regulations pertaining to sex work. It will include several areas related to occupational health and safety (OHS):

  • Workplace safety including health and safety issues and stigma and discrimination against sex workers
  • Regulatory requirements for operators of commercial sex work businesses
  • And the safety and wellbeing of sex workers, including the experience of violence that arises in the course of sex work and as a consequence of it, and worker advocacy for safety and wellbeing

Consumer Affairs has carriage of the Sex Work laws but the breadth of the review would have been better served if the announcement had been a joint one with the Minister for Workplace Safety and Minister for Health.

This review should offer a real challenge to Victoria’s OHS laws, the OHS profession, consultants, advocates and critics.

This review offers great potential in a number of areas, primarily because it is being chaired by author, Member of Parliament and sex worker advocate Fiona Patten. But also because of the interconnectedness of this review with other work-related and OHS topics including:

  • Labour Hire
  • Precarious work
  • Contractor/Employee status
  • Industrial Manslaughter
  • Occupational health
  • Drugs and alcohol at work
  • Working from home
  • Working alone
  • Workplace flexibility
  • Mental health
  • Disability services
  • Workplace design
  • Sexual Harassment at work
  • Occupational violence

SafetyAtWorkBlog will be making a submission to the review and assisting others to do so. Other OHS professionals and organisations are encouraged to contribute.

The review will hear from many sex work stakeholders but sex work has very few outside of the industry who are willing to speak on behalf of sex workers; workers who are entitled to the same level of OHS coverage and support as provided to any other worker in Victoria. To contribute to the review it is not necessary to know much about sex work, only how one’s area of expertise may relate to and affect sex workers.

It may be useful to ask yourself questions like the following:

  • How does one design a safe workplace where sex is the primary activity and often with an hourly turnover?
  • If a severely disabled person uses a sex worker, does the sex worker need to be trained in communicating with such a customer? And does the disabled person’s carer remain in the room?
  • Does the workers’ compensation system accommodate claims be sex workers? Would the system be able to remove the social stigma from the processing of these claims?
  • Does working under an assumed name cause problems in insurance, workers’ compensation or other legal processes?
  • Will the industrial relations system provide fairness to sex workers?
  • Will the media provide fair coverage for sex work-related issues? Do media guidelines need to be produced in a similar fashion to guidelines on the reporting of suicides?
  • What is it like working in an industry that much of society finds offensive and is encouraged to be discrete or hidden?
  • What is it like working in a legitimate business where one hundred yards away is an illegal business offering similar services? (Are Victorians really that interested in Thai massage?)

Sex work is an industry that has struggled to achieve the legitimacy that it deserves. It has many opponents but the mention of Amnesty International, the UN Development Program, New South Wales and New Zealand in the Government’s media release augurs well for this review.

Kevin Jones

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