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Your rights when doing sex work

Employee versus contractor rights

Most sex workers in a business or brothel are employed 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.

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”.

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), or
  • a Community Law Centre, or
  • a lawyer.

It’s common for brothel operators to include in a 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 NZPC 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 about health and safety at work, see: “Your wellbeing at work”.

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 NZPC, or
  • the police, or
  • a Community Law Centre.

Your rights doing sex work as an employee

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, just like employees in other industries.

For more information on your rights and how to enforce them, see: “Employment conditions and protections”.

Some specific employment rights sex workers might want to know about

Some of the basic employment rights include:

  • You must have a written employment agreement, and your employer has to give you a copy if you ask for it, and
  • 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, and
  • You’re entitled to annual leave, or to be paid out 8% in each paycheck in place of annual leave.

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Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

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

Website: www.employment.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 20 90 20
Starting a job: www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/
Leaving a job: www.employment.govt.nz/ending-employment/

Te Kauae Kaimahi/
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions

Te Kauae Kaimahi 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.

Website: www.union.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: (04) 385 1334

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective is 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.

Website: www.nzpc.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: 04 382 8791
Instagram: www.instagram.com/_nzpc/

Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG)

UNEMIG or Union Network of Migrants is an association of migrant workers within FIRST Union.

Website: www.unemig.org.nz
Email: unemig@firstunion.org.nz 
Phone: 0800 863 477

Migrant Workers Association

The Migrant Workers Association NZ fights for migrant workers’ rights and against injustice and exploitation in the workplace.

Website: migrantworkers.org.nz
Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz
Phone: 0800 863 477
Facebook: www.facebook.com/migrantworkersassociationaotearoa/

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