Work [Noun]: Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
What is work? To some it means doing certain tasks, ultimately creating or delivering predictable products or services to someone else. To others, it’s pursuing a passion.
Regardless of whether or not you love your job, you’ve got the right to be safe while you do it.
I’ve learned a lot about work from Abi D’Winters and Arianna Gold. They’re both ‘fly-in, fly-out’ (FIFO) workers, a specific contingent of Australia’s workforce. Many FIFO workers are in it for the money, but Arianna and Abi adore their jobs. Arianna is based in Queensland and works interstate, where it’s safer to do her job. Abi lives in South Australia with her husband, but she can’t work there; it’s illegal for her to live on her earnings. Both women adhere to Australian tax rules, yet are treated as second-class citizens when it comes to rights at work.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of sex work in Australia.
There’s only one state in the country where working in this occupation, or partaking in these services, doesn’t implicate you in some form of criminal behaviour: New South Wales. That’s why the FIFO lifestyle is so common for many sex workers across the country. What unites all these frequent flyers, regardless of where they base their office, is their refusal to accept harmful ideologies that surround sexual commerce and prohibit safe working environments.
The laws in Australia (excluding NSW) prevent Arianna, Abi and their counterparts, across many nuanced roles, from safely earning an income, putting them at risk because they don’t have recourse at work. To progress policy reform in Australia, a key factor is missing in legislative debates: evidence and discussion of actual risks from the workers themselves, drawing on their lived experience.
‘What we want is decriminalisation, which is what they have in New Zealand,’ Abi says. ‘It’s perfect because it makes what I do pretty much the same as decorating wedding cakes.’ She tells me about New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act 2003. That policy subjects sex workers to the same occupational health and safety laws as other careers. If needed, they can lodge a claim for unpaid superannuation or harassment at work. As a result, sex workers in New Zealand are more likely to report any issues (including violence) that they experience at work. They can pick up the phone and talk to someone without fear if their needs at work aren’t being met. Just like you.
I mull over Abi’s comments. Cake bakers don’t have specific laws carved out for them. I imagine if running a Cheesecake Shop franchise were a singled-out, stigmatised, licenced activity, rather than just a business I worked at or owned. I imagine how using a commercial oven without a licence could mean breaking the law. If I burned myself on the oven, if a customer stole a black forest cake or held me up at work, or if my boss harassed me, I wouldn’t – couldn’t – report it. If I did, authorities would tell me I’d broken the law and lock me up. This is how the state discriminates against sex workers in places where sex work is not yet decriminalised.
Legalisation is one approach currently used in some Australian states like Queensland, where regulations criminalise people who don’t meet certain criteria. And licensing is a framework used in Victoria, in which you must provide your business plan before the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission screens you for any criminal activity. These frameworks are often counterintuitive to safety and equality at work. For example, Victorian regulations deem that private workers can’t see clients at their own premises (unless it’s registered as a brothel). Safety concerns are rife in that environment. Queensland regulations define a brothel as a place where two or more people work in sexual commerce, which means anyone can be charged with pimping if they text someone their location for safety, work in pairs, or even work in the same building (sometimes also for safety) – regardless of their knowledge if others work at the same location. ‘That’s what I like to call the crystal ball method,’ Arianna says. ‘We don’t know who’s working next door, who’s working upstairs.’
Decriminalisation is an approach that supports access to more reasonable frameworks and rights at work. In New South Wales, Abi and Arianna’s job is recognised as a legitimate occupation, subject to industrial regulations on OHS issues. Amnesty International supports decriminalisation and decries the laws of other states that ‘prohibit associated activities—such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organisation of sex work’ and often make sex workers ‘too scared of being penalised to report crime to the police.’
Sex work is a consensual transaction between adults. Whether sex workers select their occupation because of better pay, flexible working conditions, personal expression, lack of other career options or some other reason, they’re all entitled to the same occupational health and safety rights as someone in any other occupation. They shouldn’t have to leave the state or duck and weave through exclusive, discriminatory rules.
For more information on this and similar topics, subscribe to Arianna Gold’s podcasts on LibSyn.
Produced by Sharmin Paynter