Short-sighted redefinition of worker

In May 2013, Workcover Queensland supported the government’s intention to change the definition of worker to match that of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).  The definition re-emphasises the significance of the employer/employee relationship.  Workplace health and safety laws through most of Australia have recently changed to remove the reliance on the employer/employee relationship with the intention of clarifying the lines of responsibility for preventing harm.  The diversity between workers’ compensation and OHS definitions unnecessarily complicates the management of a worker’s health through the linear experience of employment.

The government believes such changes will reduce “red tape” but only in the narrow context of workers compensation.  The Work Health and Safety Act expands the definition of worker but another piece of legislation in the same State restricts it.  Inconsistencies of concepts are likely to lead to duplications, confusion and arguments that may generate as much unnecessary business and legal costs as the initiatives were intended to save. Continue reading “Short-sighted redefinition of worker”

One industry sector continues to struggle with new OHS obligations

Some companies and industry sectors are struggling to cope with a major change to Australia’s occupational health and safety laws – the removal of the employer/employee relationship.  One example of an industry struggling with the change is the sex industry, more specifically, the licensed brothels.

In many industries, and in the safety profession itself, people confuse the OHS laws of injury prevention with the Compensation laws of rehabilitation.  In Australia these are two separate sets of laws, administered, often, by different government agencies and through different mechanisms, even though to effectively manage workers business needs to operate as if the demarcation does not exist. Many industries and professionals also make the common mistake of believing that a judgement in one area of law applies to other areas.

For many years the brothel industry* in Victoria, in particular, has believed that a ruling by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) – that sex workers (or sexual service providers, the preferred term by the brothel industry) are not employees of the brothels – also relates to the OHS laws.  The argument goes that, as the ATO has said that no employment relationship exists for taxation purposes, there are no, or limited, OHS obligations on the brothel owners for the sexworkers.  This is bollocks, has always been bollocks and I have personally advised representatives of the brothel industry over many years that it is bollocks but the misunderstanding persists.  Sadly, this persistence could impede the progress of the brothel industry to comply with the new Work Health and Safety laws.

Continue reading “One industry sector continues to struggle with new OHS obligations”

Academic clarifies objections to sex work

Caroline Norma of RMIT University responded to some questions about sex work and brothel safety put to her by SafetyAtWorkBlog in response to her recently published opinion piece.  This article is a companion piece to an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article on sex work and safety.

SAWB: What action do you recommend that brothel owners should take, beyond the current legislative and licensing requirements, to ensure that only safe sex occurs on their premises?

CN: “Brothel owners are currently commissioning violence against women by operating prostitution businesses.  Prostitution is inherently a practice of violence against women, and can’t be made ‘safe’ for women by any action by pimps.  In fact, brothel owners have a financial conflict of interest with regards to ensuring the safety of women in their venues, because clients will pay more for unprotected sex acts, violent sex, body punishing sex acts like anal penetration, sex with younger women, etc.” Continue reading “Academic clarifies objections to sex work”

Brothel safety gains new media attention

The occupational health and safety of sex workers is one of the most difficult areas to write about as the industry is politically and ideologically charged with matters of feminist ideology, human rights and sex trafficking, religious morality and NIMBY lobbying.  In such an environment, it is important that the OHS needs of sex workers not be forgotten.

On 13 July 2011, The Age newspaper reported on the threat of legal action by one sex workers on a Victorian licensed brothel, Butterflys of Blackburn.  The article raised many OHS issues for the brothel industry.  In short, the article reports that a sex worker is suing the brothel because the brothel, allegedly, established an expectation that the sex workers would allow unprotected sex, sexual acts without a condom or other protection, an offence under Victorian law.  This particular sex worker’s experience in Butterflys of Blackburn was that, when refusing unprotected sex to a client, the client assaulted her, attempted to rape her and threatened her with a gun.

The Age reports that the woman “has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, whiplash in her neck and a torn muscle in her shoulder.”  The worker is already receiving workers’ compensation and is pursuing compensation for permanent impairment.  Her plans for suing the brothel relate to the accusation that the brothel failed to provide a safe workplace. Continue reading “Brothel safety gains new media attention”

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.   Continue reading “West Australian moves on sex work law neglect OHS”

Sex trafficking and brothels

Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy work environment.  It was this statement and belief that pushed me to providing OHS advice to the legal brothel industry in Victoria.  The industry is frowned upon by most but used by many, and yet the OHS support for the industry is far less than that provided for many other legal businesses.

Over the years sex trafficking, or slavery, has gained a lot of attention, more so, in my opinion, than other examples of illegal migration and worker  exploitation.  Articles in The Age newspaper today report on approaches to brothel owners and managers from people who have women for sale.  Regardless of the industry in which this occurs, this practice is abhorrent and the full weight of the law should be focused on these slave traders.

But a point that is getting lost in the wilderness is that not all women working in brothels are illegal.  Almost all choose to work there for the same reasons anyone works anywhere.  Many academics, and Australia has some of the most rabid, see all sex work as exploitation, as slavery and degrading to women.

The question for safety professionals and advocates is whether the nature of the work discounts the workers’, and employers’, access to legitimate safety advice?  Can the moral switch be flicked off, even for a short time, in order to provide workers in this industry with the same level of occupational health and safety as any other worker can rightfully demand?  Does the switch need turning off?

The statement at the start of this blog, that is reflected in OHS legislation around the world, is not selective, it applies to all.

The legal brothel industry has a long way to go in achieving the levels of OHS compliance that other small businesses have already gained.  The established hazards of manual handling, ergonomics, noise, etc are largely dealt with but consider those issues that have entered the occupational area over the last decade or so.  

Ask yourselves how would the owner of a legal brothel, a business where (predominantly) women have sex with multiple partners over their shift, deal with these contemporary hazards:

  • Stress
  • Bullying
  • Fatigue
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Security

And then ask yourselves how the OHS profession and discipline would deal with these workplace issues?

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Working in isolation

I judge the success of safety management systems in companies by the level of knowledge the most isolated worker has about safety in that workplace.   I ask the teleworkers, the night-shift workers, the security guards, the cleaners, the maintenance staff…  These employees, if a safety management system is working properly, should have the same level of safety knowledge, and the same level of access to OHS support, as those workers on day shift in a  head office.

I also judge the safety profession and the regulators on the success of their safety initiatives, the level of their safety commitment, by looking at how OHS is accepted and implemented at those industries on the fringes of society, like the brothel industry.  If the workers in these industries and the owners of these businesses are treated differently because of the nature of the work, we need to reassess our commitment to safety and the professional vows many of us took to ensure everyone has a safe and healthy work environment.

Kevin Jones

A March 2008 podcast on the issue of sex trafficking in Australia is available HERE 

 

 

Working Alone in the Sex Industry

One of the strongest qualities that a consultant has is to provide a new perspective on an existing process. For over 10 years, I provided OHS advice to the Victorian sex industry. It started in response to a call for first aid advice from a dominatrix in Melbourne. I provided advice on the best treatment for scorch marks on nipples and how to best clean a leather paddle which may have had a small amount of the client’s blood in the seams.

My work culminated in drafting a book on OHS in the adult sex industry for CCH Australia. The company was restructured and my book was dropped. However much of the information in the 40,000 words already written is still valid and I was happy to allow part of it to be reproduced by RhED in the latest issue of their magazine for sex workers.

The strength of any OHS publication and guideline from the government is its applicability to those occupations on the fringes of society.  The sex industry inhabits that fringe but few governments have provided OHS advice for the sector, although I admit that Australia is a leading provider of sex industry safety information.

In Red magazine, I have interpreted the Western Australian OHS guidelines on working alone to the sex industry. The guidelines were surprising useful.

As with many health work sectors or fringe industries, workers and employers don’t often look beyond the advice that is available from their industry association or government department. As such information from OHS regulators doesn’t always get to the industries where it is best needed. More guidelines in the sex industry need to come from a coalition of government departments. For instance, in Victoria, safety in the sex industry overlaps the Department of Human Services, the Department of Justice and the WorkCover Authority.

Safety in the sex industry seems to rely on consultants like myself (and you could count them on one hand) or organisations like RhED, the Inner South Community Health Service, and the Scarlet Alliance, to pull together these disparate safety guidelines in to a suitable package.

(For those interested in the sex worker industry, $pread Magazine in the US sometimes has useful safety tips and case studies)

UPDATE – 6 October 2008

RhED has posted an interesting profile on sexworkers in Victorian brothels.  The statistics provide a very useful background to some of the information above.

UPDATE – 9 January 2008

The Red magazine article on working alone is now available online.

Kevin Jones