Monday 13 August 2012

ABC Radio: Fair Work blitz on sex industry clerical work

MARK COLVIN: The Fair Work Ombudsman is conducting a blitz on Victorian brothels. The campaign will focus on clerical employees in the industry, rather than sex workers.

The Victorian Sex Industry Network has cautiously welcomed the announcement. But it's warned the Ombudsman's office not to get caught up in a moral witch hunt.

Rachel Carbonell reports.

RACHEL CARBONELL: The Fair Work Ombudsman plans to audit about 100 brothels in Victoria, mostly in Melbourne but some in regional Victoria too.

Craig Bildstein is a director with the Ombudsman's office.

CRAIG BILDSTEIN: Each year we run between 5,000 and 7,000 targeted audits so it may be the hospitality sector, could be the cleaning industry, it could be the retail sector. Or in this latest case in Victoria it's the sex industry. But in particular our focus is on the clerical workers, the licensed brothel managers and the receptionists.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Craig Bildstein says it's possible clerical workers in the sex industry may be more reluctant than others to speak out about poor working conditions.

CRAIG BILDSTEIN: It's put to us that a large number of clerical workers in this industry would be female. They'd probably be young women. They're most likely from a non-English-speaking background. They probably have a limited professional and personal network which may be restricted to the industry.

I guess in other words they might be reluctant to rock the boat for fear of jeopardising their employment. So it's important for us to come in and ensure that the employers in these premises do understand their lawful obligations and to remind the staff that there is an employment regulator that can assist them if they are concerned.

RACHEL CARBONELL: The Fair Work Ombudsman is also concerned about sham contracting.

CRAIG BILDSTEIN: The suggestions that have been made to us at the moment is that some brothel owners are requiring their business managers for example to have an ABN and take on the position as contractors.

So obviously we're concerned to ensure that sham contracting is not in play in these premises so we'll be apprising the operators of the modern award, the Clerks-Private Sector Award 2010 and obviously the National Employment Standards.

RACHEL CARBONELL: But some in the sex industry are concerned that the clerical award isn't necessarily the best fit for those in the clerical part of the sex industry.

Christian Vega is a spokesperson for VIXEN, the Victorian Sex Industry Network.

CHRISTIAN VEGA: What I would caution is that there is this assumption that, yes the managers and receptionists do perform a clerical function but that is a small subsection of the skill set and knowledge base that is required to perform their role effectively.

We're talking about people who are in effective control of a workplace, quite often in late hours of the night, dealing with a clientele that can be unpredictable, that can be intoxicated. You know, these are not just normal admin office workers.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Christian Vega says some clerical workers in the sex industry are reluctant to speak out about poor pay and working conditions is because of the stigma attached to the industry and the moral judgements that are often made about it.

CHRISTIAN VEGA: The part that I guess I have concerns about is that whenever somebody does any sort of accountability or investigation into the sex industry, there is this automatic assumption that because things aren't running as they should do, there is either a criminal or an exploitative element that's present there. It has the potential of turning into a bit of a witch hunt.

RACHEL CARBONELL: But he says overall he's hopeful the Ombudsman's investigation will be positive.

CHRISTIAN VEGA: This investigation is a step towards decriminalisation and what that means is treating our industry just like any other industry. I think there should be, there needs to be a frank, open, objective discussion about working conditions in our industry.

And I would urge the Fair Work Ombudsman to actually look at the impact of stigma, you know, stigma that our industry faces on actual working conditions and the impact that it's had on things like reporting, you know, substandard work practices or pay conditions that aren't up to scratch.

MARK COLVIN: Christian Vega from the Victorian Sex Industry Network ending that report from Rachel Carbonell.

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