Full text http://cupe.ca/updir/FactSheet-SexWork.doc
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
There are good reasons why CUPE is involved in getting the concerns of sex workers addressed.
CUPE is committed to defending the rights of workers. Our union is particularly active in defending the rights of workers to be treated equally. We know that discrimination divides workers and weakens our solidarity. The criminalization of sex work is a form of discrimination. It says to people that sex workers have no rights and that it is their own fault if they are victims of harassment and violence. The discrimination can take many forms. For example,
· They have no recourse if a client refuses to pay
· They can be fired from other work if they “come out” or are “outed” as a sex worker
· They can be denied access to shelters for victims of violence, or given access only if they commit to leave sex work
· They can lose custody of their children
· They can be denied police protection
· They can be targeted by community campaigns to “clean up” the neighbourhood
· They are denied the protection and rights set out in labour or employment laws
CUPE policy to oppose discrimination faced by transgender and transsexual (trans) members also comes into play when it comes to sex work. For some trans people, sex work is the only viable form of employment. Some trans people work in the sex trade because of the discrimination they encounter in other forms of employment. Many trans people have trouble getting hired and are fired because of their gender identity and expression.
Sex work is also a CUPE issue because CUPE social service workers provide frontline support services to sex workers, particularly in large urban centres. For example, CUPE members employed with the 519 Community Centre in Toronto provide legal services, outreach, referrals, and crisis assistance to sex workers. And sex work experience is a bona fide criterion for employment in some CUPE organized workplaces.
What is CUPE saying about sex work?
CUPE policy commits the union to work toward legislative reforms that would help end the discrimination experienced by sex workers.
At the 2001 CUPE National Convention, members passed a resolution, which calls on CUPE to take the lead, within the Canadian Labour Congress, for the decriminalization of sex work in Canada.
CUPE is not the only labour organization to adopt policy in support of sex workers’ rights. In 2002, the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 2.5 million workers represented by many different unions, called on the entire labour movement to work towards supportive measures for sex trade workers.
What does the decriminalization of prostitution mean?
Prostitution, or the sale of sexual services between consenting adults, is not illegal in Canada.
However, certain activities associated with prostitution are illegal. Under the Criminal Code, the bawdy-house provision, the communicating provision, and the procuring provision make it very difficult to engage in prostitution without breaking the law. The result is that many sex workers face criminal consequences for engaging in what is an otherwise legal activity.
The Criminal Code actually prevents prostitutes from organizing their own businesses and working together for mutual protection. For example, the bawdy-house laws make it illegal to own, operate, and work in a brothel. Persons convicted of a bawdy-house offence can face up to two years in prison. As a result, many prostitutes choose to work on the streets in order to avoid time in prison. But as one sex worker told the Pivot Legal Society Sex Work Subcommittee, working on the street is a lot more dangerous than working in a dwelling:
Working indoors is better than standing on the street. I have felt that my life was in danger three times in the past year. Each time that happened, I was standing on the street. I have never felt that my life was in danger when I have had dates in my own residence.
Criminalization does not stop people from working as sex workers. All it does is reinforce prejudice against sex workers and force them into unsafe working conditions. Criminalization contributes to a perception of sex workers as non-persons, undeserving of the protections of law and society. A prime example of the consequences is the disappearance and murders of numerous sex workers from Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
This is why sex workers’ rights advocates call for the decriminalization of all aspects of sex work. Decriminalization means the repeal and/or the reform of laws that differentiate sex workers from other workers and that regulate the sex lives of consenting adults.
Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Legalization means the creation of a new set of laws regulating how sex workers live and work. In legalized systems, some workers are issued licenses that permit them to work and the police mandate is “prostitution control.” Laws enforced by the police and social service agencies that prescribe health checks and the registration of health status, and determine where sex workers can and cannot live and work, violate sex workers’ Charter and labour rights and should be opposed.
What is CUPE’s Position on Unionizing Sex Workers?
CUPE takes the position that sex work is a form of work. However, CUPE is not seeking to organize sex workers.
There are legal impediments to the unionization of sex workers, and prostitutes in particular. For instance, existing labour laws in Canada, with the exception of Quebec, do not provide for the unionization of autonomous or contract workers where there is no clearly defined employer/employee relationship. Also, it is unlikely CUPE could get union certification for workers involved in what is essentially an illegal activity.
However, CUPE has called upon the Canadian Labour Congress to investigate the possibility of sex workers getting union representation.
It is only fair that sex workers get the recognition and protection given other workers, including a minimum income, social security, sanitary and healthy workplaces, freedom from discrimination, harassment, violence, and coercion, and the right to union representation.
What can we do?
We can support sex workers by helping them fight for their rights as workers.
· Support sex workers in their efforts to be represented
· Educate members about sex worker issues
· Lobby for the decriminalization of sex work
· Support sex workers seeking worker protections
· Lobby for sex worker protections in labour legislation, human rights codes and hate crime legislation
· Demand accountability from the justice system for unsolved violent crimes against sex workers