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Sex workers: Your rights

Your rights when doing sex work


Most sex workers in businesses work as independent contractors – the business doesn’t pay their PAYE tax for them, and doesn’t provide sick leave, annual leave or other benefits you get when you’re officially an “employee”.

In fact, lots of sex workers really are employees, without realising it. The law on whether someone is a contractor or employee says that you have to look at each case and see what’s really happening in the relationship. Just because the employer says that you’re a contractor and not an employee, that doesn’t mean that legally you’re not an employee. What’s important is how close to the heart of the business your work is.

Employees have a lot more rights than contractors. For more information on how to tell if you’re an employee or a contractor, see “When you’re not an ‘employee’: Differences between employees, contractors and volunteers” in this chapter.

But even if you really are an independent contractor – or if your boss thinks you are – you have lots of workers’ rights that your boss is supposed to respect.

Your rights doing sex work as an independent contractor

Your contract gives you rights – and maybe more than you think

If you are an independent contractor to a brothel, you are making what is supposed to be a free and equal agreement with a brothel operator that is good for both of you.

You have the right to negotiate the contract to include things that are important to you. You also have the right to keep a copy of the written contract.

In reality, often the brothel operator has, or seems to have, more power than the sex worker. If you want to even up the balance, you can get legal advice on the contract you are being asked to sign from:

  • the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC)
  • a Community Law Centre
  • a lawyer.

It’s common for brothel operators to include in contracts a system of fines for things like turning up late or wearing the wrong clothes. If these fines are unreasonable and more like a punishment than about the true cost to the business of what you’re doing, then your boss might not be able to get them enforced if you took your boss to court. Someone from the Prostitutes Collective can help you negotiate a better contract.

Health and safety rights at work

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, Prostitution Reform Act 2003, ss 8–10

Even if you’re an independent contractor and not an employee, the brothel operator has to make sure you have a safe workplace.

Operators have to make sure you and your clients follow safer sex practices. They also have to make sure everything else about the workplace is safe for you.

For more information, see the chapter “Employment conditions and protections”, under “Health and safety protections”.

Prostitution Reform Act 2013, s 17; Case: [2012] NZHC 2859

Even if you’re an independent contractor and not an employee, you always have the right to give, refuse or take back consent to any kind of sex. It doesn’t matter what your contract says about this – your right to consent is stronger than any other law.

If someone is making you do something you don’t want to do, you can get help from:

  • the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC)
  • the police, or
  • a Community Law Centre.

Your rights doing sex work as an employee

For general information on your rights as an employee, see the other sections of this chapter and also the chapters “Employment conditions and protections,” and “Resolving employment problems.”

Very few sex workers have written employment agreements. Some sex workers might actually legally be “employees” without realising it, but most at least think they are independent contractors.

If you are an employee – either because you have an employment agreement, or because despite what the operator says, your position in the business looks more like an employee – you have lots of extra employment rights.

For more information on how to tell if you’re an employee or a contractor, see “When you’re not an ‘employee’: Differences between employees, contractors and volunteers” in this chapter.

Some specific employment rights sex workers might want to know about

An employer can’t dock your pay unless it’s in your employment contract, and they have to let you know every time they do it. For more information, see the chapter “Employment conditions and protections”, under “Payment of wages: When and how”.

Employment Relations Act 2000, s 64

You must have a written employment agreement and your employer must give you a copy of it if you ask for one.

You have all the health and safety rights that are explained in the section above “Health and safety rights at work”

Did this answer your question?

Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal information, advice and education about employment law issues.

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


The Employment website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment publishes a range of publications on employment relations and minimum rights at work.

Free phone: 0800 20 90 20, for general enquiries about employment relations, pay and holidays.

For translated employment information go to www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/rights-and-responsibilities/minimum-rights-of-employees-translations/#minimum

Reporting migrant exploitation


Make a complaint to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment about migrant exploitation with this online form.

If you need help completing the form or would like to speak to an interpreter, call 0800 200 088 between 8:00am – 5:30pm, Monday to Friday. You will be connected with an interpreter after you say the name of the language you speak.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi


Phone: (04) 385 1334
Email: info@nzctu.org.nz

The NZCTU is the umbrella body for affiliated unions covering every job and industry in New Zealand. It can provide information about which union may cover the type of work you do.

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective


A nationwide organisation run by sex workers for sex workers. They provide information and services for people who are doing sex work or thinking about doing sex work.

Phone (04) 382 8791
Mobile and media inquiries: 027 496 0700
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz

Migrant worker organisations

Union Network of Migrants – UNEMIG


Part of FIRST Union

Phone: 0800 863477

Migrant Workers Association


Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz

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