Last year, the Victorian government changed the name of the laws governing sex work from The Prostitution Control Act to The Sex Work Act. “It was a small step made in the right direction to recognise the rights of sex workers in Victoria. In addition to no longer using politically incorrect language, it recognised that sex work is work and it should be treated as such,” says Christian Vega, a private escort who has worked in Victoria for the past decade. “The recent case before WorkSafe Victoria of a sex worker taking action against her workplace is yet another step in the right direction.”
Sex work in Victoria is regulated through stringent laws that are rigorously enforced by Consumer Affairs Victoria and the police. “But these do not protect the rights and working conditions of sex workers,” says Mr Vega. “What we need are laws that reflect the standards that can be expected by all other workers. It’s a form of discrimination that legislation treats sex workers so poorly.”
Mr Vega continues, “Sex work legislation acts as a poor substitute for the laws that form industrial relations and occupational health and safety standards. While the government busies itself with enforcing cumbersome regulations that seek to control the industry the rights of workers go begging.” He describes examples, “Public servants regularly visit brothels penalising businesses for not having particular laminated signs on display or for having a bottle of champagne in a staff member’s locker while no training or education is being provided for workers nothing is done about licensees that don’t meet actual occupational health and safety standards in the workplace.”
“A clear demonstration of the discrimination created by sex work laws is illustrated by involvement, or lack thereof, of government bodies in the sex industry.” Mr Vega explains, “Because the special laws for sex work are complex and are enforced by Consumer Affairs and the Police,other workplace regulators all but ignore the sex industry. WorkSafe Victoria and FairWork Australia may be identified as regulatory bodies but are seldom engaged with the industry. As such, sex work laws effectively form a barrier for these conditions to be lifted.”
Mr Vega welcomes the news that a recent case before WorkSafe Victoria of a sex worker claiming compensation regarding an incident in her workplace. “This is a landmark case for sex workers in our state. For the first time sex work is being treated not as some social problem that needs to be managed but as a legitimate form of employment. For once, a government agency isn’t trying to control the industry but is actually working towards protecting the rights of a worker. It must have taken an extraordinary amount of courage for this sex worker to come forward and make this claim.”
“What is clear is that the current regulatory regime is ineffective,” he said. “In order for sex workers to come out and claim their rights as workers they need to be treated as workers. The case before WorkSafe is fantastic but it’s an exception, not the rule, and it’s long overdue. How many other workers have had complaints about working conditions ignored as compliance officers and the police swept in and out of their workplaces? Clearly, the sex industry in Victoria needs to be decriminalised- it’s regulation must conducted by the same workplace authorities as everyone else- not enforcement officers who care nothing about our experience at work.”
Mr Vega emphasises the frustration experienced by sex workers, “We deserve better working conditions. We don’t need more police or doctors or public servants scrutinising our lives and our bodies; we need better rights as workers. We need to be enabled, just as any other worker is, to feel safe and thrive in our workplaces.”
Christian Vega is a sex worker; a member of Vixen Victoria and the elected representative of Australian Male Sex Workers for the Scarlet Alliance. He also ran as a candidate for the Australian Sex Party in the Federal and State elections.