Sex trafficking and brothels

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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 

 

 

A sport’s culture of excessive alcohol at work functions

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Each November safety publications carry guidances and warnings about unacceptable conduct at company Christmas parties.  Often these warnings are around moderating alcohol consumption and showing due respect to others.  One of the most recent legal advisories was issued in late-2008 by Maria Saraceni of the Australian law firm, Deacons.

This week in Sydney the National Rugby League (NRL)  faced its latest controversy when Brett Stewart of the Manly club was charged with sexual assault at a work function.  The NRL today issued harsh penalties on both Stewart (five match ban) and the club ($100,000).  To understand the context of the penalties and the media hoo-hah surrounding this it would be necessary to look at the many instances of assault and abuse associated with rugby league, and other male-dominated sports, in Australia.

The issue has remained largely on the sports pages of the newspapers except in New South Wales.  The fact that a sporting club was involved and a sport with a sad history in this area has dominated reporting and the OHS, safety management and employer liability angle has been lost in the rush.

The NRL media statement (no direct link available), quoted in part by the ABC, shows that the NRL CEO, David Gallop, is well aware of the safety management issues.

“Brett could not have been in a more high profile position of trust for the game on the eve of a season than he was last week and we believe he should have recognized the honour that he was given and the responsibility that went with it,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.  “By any estimation there was an abuse of alcohol in the aftermath of a club function that has led in some part to the game being placed under enormous pressure.

“The players and the clubs need to know that we are not going to accept that.

“The Manly club has today delivered its report into the function and the measures simply weren’t sufficient to stop drinking getting out of hand in the case of some of the players. Brett was both refused service of alcohol and asked leave the premises.”

Section 20 (2) of the NRL Code of Conduct which states:

“Every person bound by this Code shall, whether or not he is attending an official function arranged for the NRL, the NRL Competition, the Related Competitions, Representative Matches, the ARL Competitions or a Club, conduct himself at all times in public in a sober, courteous and professional manner.”

Peter Fitzsimmons explains why the general conduct of rugby players needs changing.

“They [rugby league clubs] must fix it because they are a powerful tribe within our community, and that community has had a gutful not just of the atrocities, but of the NRL promising to fix it, to educate them, to discipline them, blah, blah, blah, year after year, with no results.”

Kevin Jones

OHS context of leave entitlements

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Family-friendly work initiatives always get increased attention around International Women’s Day.  This is a shame as work/life balance is not gender specific, however the dominant Western family structures make the application of the concept relative to gender.  As long as the matter is perceived as a “women’s issue”, it will struggle for attention in a basically patriarchal society.

Family-friendly work structures are predominantly associated with hours of work and leave entitlements.  These don’t seem to be OHS matters as they are mostly handled through HR or the pay department however there is a link and it is a link that work/life and work/family advocates may use as a strong argument for their cause.

Leave is a worker entitlement for several reasons:

  • Situations may occur where the employee is required to stay home to look after an ill relative;
  • The employee may stay home as they are too sick to work; and
  • The employee may feel they need time away from work to rebalance their lives.

The second point has an OHS relevance because going to work while sick may introduce a hazard to your work colleagues – presenteeism.  In many jurisdictions it is a breach of an employee’s OHS legislative obligations to not generate hazards for their work colleagues or members of the public while at work.

The third point relates to an individual’s management of stress and/or fatigue.

In Australia, some workplaces allow for “doona days” (or for those in the Northern hemisphere’s winter at the moment “duvet days”).  These are days where a workplace and the employee would benefit psychologically from some time-out in order to “reboot”.

It may also be a valid fatigue management mechanism where long hours have been worked to the extent where attending the workplace may present hazards to others, or to themselves by feeling impaired, or have the employee working well below the appropriate level of attentiveness for the job to be properly done.

Leave entitlements, to some extent, form part of the employer’s legislative obligations to have a safe and healthy work environment.  But they also support the worker’s obligations to look after themselves and not present hazards to others.

The OHS element of leave entitlements should be emphasized when discussions of family-friendly workplaces occur.  Not only does it legitimately raise the profile of OHS in business planning, it can add some moral weight to an issue that can get bogged down in industrial relations.

Some readers may want to check out recent presentations to the US Senate in early-March 2009, by various people on the issue of family-friendly work structure.  These include

Eileen Appelbaum, Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University,

Dr Heather Boushey, Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress Action Fund,

Rebia Mixon Clay, a home health care worker who cares for her brother in Chicago. (Rebia’s video is below)

Kevin Jones

Cancer fears in Tasmanian school

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Over recent years Australia has had its share of cancer cluster fears, most of which have not had a cause identified.  Cancer clusters are one of the most difficult workplace hazards to manage for several reasons:

  • Worker’s fear for their health;
  • Management fears for its staff;
  • Some management worry about the related business costs;
  • Clusters can generate considerable media coverage; and
  • Noone knows what’s really going on.

An August 2008 case appeared in Tasmania and, therefore, got almost no coverage in other States, even though it occurred in a media-friendly venue, a school.  The experts say that the incident is not technically a “cancer cluster” however semantics is the least of the worries for the participants and, in terms of safety management (and the management of any “outrage”), the differentiation is irrelevant.

In early March 2009, the investigation was completed and, sadly, no cause was identified.  In 3 March, the Director of Public Health,  Dr Roscoe Taylor, issued a media statement.

The investigation concerned the potential risks from electro-magnetic radiation from nearby power lines.

Dr Taylor found there was no statistical significance in the cancer rates of employees who had worked at the school

“Taking into account the lack of identifiable hazards, as well as the very small population we are dealing with, the most probable explanation for the numbers of cancers appears to be chance variation,” said Dr Taylor. 

“This was a rigorous and thorough investigation and while we probably can’t provide staff with the absolute assurances and certainty they would have been looking for, I think the results of the analysis mean we can be fairly confident that there has been no serious threat to public or occupational health at the school.

More details and Frequently Asked Questions are available.  A particularly useful factsheet on clusters is available HERE.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Health Report has an excellent podcast available in which cancer clusters in workplaces are discussed.

Kevin Jones

Is there a Mars safety and a Venus safety?

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A research paper released last month in Germany caught my attention even though it does not relate directly to research undertaken in a work environment.  

There seems to be an established train of thought that men and women choose to take risks based on some sort of gender criteria.

Alison L. Booth and  Patrick J. Nolen have published “Gender Differences in Risk Behaviour: Does Nurture Matter?”  They researched risk behaviour along gender lines in secondary education, a different sample choice to other researchers who mostly looked at their university students.  Booth and Nolen found

“…gender differences in preferences for risk-taking are sensitive to the gender mix of the experimental group, with girls being more likely to choose risky outcomes when assigned to all-girl groups.  This suggests that observed gender differences in behaviour under uncertainty found in previous studies might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.”

Gender studies are fraught with ideological baggage and it is a brave person who chooses this line of study, as I learnt through studying sociology and Russian literature at university (but that’s another story).

The full report is heavy going for those with no sociology background but the research flags an issue that could be useful to pose to the growing band of workplace psychologists and culture gurus – what are the gender-based variations in unsafe behaviours in the workplace?

Could the available research mean different safety management approaches in workplaces with different gender mixes?  

When people talk about workplace culture, could there be a male culture and a female culture?  (We certainly refer to a macho culture in some industries)  In other words, is there a Mars safety and a Venus safety?

Workplace safety tries hard to be generic but has variations based on industry types.  Perhaps we should be looking more closely at the demographics of these types and varying our safety management approaches?

Kevin Jones