Friday, 3 August 2012

A Labour Rights Approach to HIV and Sex Work: Working with Sex Workers to Protect Human Rights, Prevent and Eliminate Violence and Sexual Harassment and Promote Equal Access to Protection Schemes

Session on a report on the labour rights of
sex workers in Laos, funded by the ILO
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations peak body on labour, hosted panel discussions at the IAS conference to explore options for building and maintaining successful partnerships with sex worker organisations to improve sex workers’ access to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support services and to address more directly underlying causes of vulnerability such as workplace safety, fair pay and conditions, protection of rights.


The panel was chaired by UNAIDS with brief presentations from the ILO, The Kirby Centre for Public Health, APHEDA- Union Aid Abroad, Empower Foundation Bangkok and Different Avenues, New York.

The presentations covered a broad range of topics but focused firmly on the rights of sex workers to safe and fair working conditions and to carry out their work with dignity under a legal framework of protection, free of discrimination, harassment, violence and other forms of abuse.

The United Nations peak body on labour, the ILO, made clear the UN believes sex work is regarded as work under the definition provided in Recommendation 200 and that sex workers should be afforded the same rights and protections as other workers. The Kirby Centre highlighted the relationship between existing laws that criminalise sex work and heightened vulnerability of workers to a range of abuses including social exclusion, poor health, and violence theft. APHEDA- Union Aid Abroad discussed the relationship between low pay and dangerous working conditions in Phnom Penh’s entertainment establishments and unacceptable levels of violence and abuse of workers.

The tone of the session is summed up neatly with presentations by two sex worker led organisations, Different Avenues and Empower who provide the following challenge to improve the life and livelihoods of sex workers:
  • Pay at or above the minimum wage
  • Eight hour work days
  • Voluntary overtime
  • Sick leave
  • Access to social services
  • No salary deductions for any reason
  • Right to form worker’s associations
                                                              Courtesy Empower (IAS 2012)

The panel was followed by a discussion with approximately 70 Washington conference delegates and a small but vocal group of sex workers video linked into the Global Village from Kolkata, where they had been exiled from the conference due to the USA’s exclusion of sex workers from the USA.

Video link to the Sex Worker Freedom Festival in 
Kolkata, a parallel conference staged by sex workers who
were denied entry to AIDS 2012 due to US visa restrictions

2 comments:

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  2. Good to see the UN acknowledging sex work as work and that sex workers should be afforded the same rights and protections as other workers. However, I don't think the message has got to Australian State Governments who continue to flex their legislative muscle around failed regimes of licensing and registration with some actually believing prohibition, such as the Swedish law that criminalises our clients,and introduces greater risks to sex workers, is the way to go. Using us as political footballs and ignoring evidence based best practice completely disrespects and denies the heroic work of Australian born and migrant sex workers and their representatives in the fight against AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. So much for this enlightened and advanced nation's long held human rights harm reduction approach.

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