Yesterday TUC rejected an ASLEF Motion calling for full and complete decriminalisation of sex work. NUM condemns this lost opportunity to adopt policy which promotes the rights and safety of people who sell sex, whether they do so from choice, circumstance or coercion.
ASLEF, together with GMB which accepts sex workers as members, also supported recognising sex work as work and promoting union membership for people in the industry.
Opponents from the floor argued repeatedly for the "Swedish model" of criminalising clients, inaccurately claiming this has decreased sex work in Sweden, tackled trafficking and increased protection. Some speakers alleged the majority of sex workers are violently coerced rather than influenced by financial need. There is a large body of research evidence which shows these claims about the law and its effects in Sweden are not accurate and indeed the policy undermines sex worker rights and safety (Jay Levy 2014 Criminalising the Purchase of sex). Similarly research on sex work in the UK shows the diversity of experiences of UK sex workers in terms of reasons for sex work, working conditions and of coercion, with many working for economic reasons and independently (Sanders et al 2017, Pitcher).
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers' union, said: “ASLEF is calling for the decriminalisation of sex work because we believe that sex workers should be legally recognised as workers and afforded the same rights as every other worker in this country. This includes their right to join a trade union and organise.”
Cat Stephens, a sex worker and activist with GMB commented "It is commonplace for debates on this issue to exclude those whose lives and livelihoods will be affected. TUC today was no exception. Over and over again we heard speakers who are either ignorant of the vast academic evidence base or choosing to cherry pick specific statistics to bolster their opinion. They will not suffer the consequences of ill informed decisions. Policy that solves problems is based on reality and on evidence, not emotion, ideology or dramatic individual cases. It's time for conversations about the sex industry to generate light not heat, to challenge the routine exclusion of those most affected and to recognise us equals to be respected not a problem to be solved."
National Ugly Mugs (NUM) Georgina Perry said “I am most disappointed at the rejection of Motion 39. NUM is clear that a legal settlement in favour of decriminalisation would result in a major shift for rights and public protection for sex workers. Delegates had the opportunity to consider the experience of sex workers and those they represent at the fringe meeting. I hope that they will disregard the noise that can be generated by those who object, and reflect on the international evidence plus sex workers voices that firmly demonstrate how decriminalisation will improve safety and rights for this already marginalised group of individuals.”