Sex Work review includes many OHS matters

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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.

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The absurdity of Work

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In early July 2019, my son and I braved a cold Melbourne Friday night to see our very first improvisational comedy show. The catalyst was a show called “F**k this, I Quit“, produced by the Improv Conspiracy, and which is based on the work experiences of the audience there on the night. I was one of around fifteen in the audience, in a room that only holds forty people, and so occupational health and safety (OHS) became a featured theme that night. I, and OHS, was roasted and it was definitely the funniest night of my professional life.

Several audience members were asked about their work experiences. I mentioned that I consulted in OHS, had provided advice to some of Victoria’s licenced brothels, had an uncomfortable conversation one time about discussing nipples while at work and that I thought the most dangerous workplace hazard was electricity as it was invisible and deadly.

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A narrow view on sex work safety

Dr Caroline Norma had an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper on October 24 2018 that fails to acknowledge the occupational health and safety (OHS) duties of Victorian businesses operating sexual services.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has looked closely at OHS in this industry sector before and has previously communicated with Dr Norma on sex work safety.  Dr Norma’s current article illustrates a common perspective on workplace safety and health issues where one set of legislation dominates the public policy conversation rather than the multidisciplinary approach.

It is necessary to clarify Dr Norma’s opening statement:

“The Victorian Labor Party will consider fully deregulating the state’s sex industry if re-elected to office in November.”

According to the 2018 Platform of the Victorian Australian Labor Party (ALP), in the context of Human Rights and Equal Opportunity, the ALP will:

“recommend that the Victorian Law Reform Commission consider decriminalisation of all sex work in Victoria as per other systems recognised internationally by human rights organisations.” (page 87)

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Sex Work regulations review safety obligations

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SafetyatworkV2I7-cover
2000 edition of SafetyATWORK magazine addressing some of the OHS issues in brothels

Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) is seeking public comment on some proposed revisions of the Sex Work Regulations.  Several revisions specifically address workplace safety issues but also indicate out-of-date thinking on worker safety and safety management.

Victoria licences its brothels and, as such, the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws apply as they do to all workplaces. However, the regulators of the sex industry seem to perceive OHS usually in terms of sexual health and hygiene even though statistics have shown that these issues are low risk hazards. This perception has lasted well over a decade as this 2000 article from National Safety magazine shows. Continue reading “Sex Work regulations review safety obligations”