Decriminalising sex work is often mistakenly seen as complete deregulation of the sex industry. This is not the case: decriminalisation removes the police as regulators while allowing other authorities to regulate the sex industry. WorkSafe Victoria is one such authority, with regulatory responsibilities that would be retained if Victoria decriminalised sex work.
Legislation and Enforcement
Creating a healthy and safe working environment for sex workers depends not only on legislation, but also on its enforcement by relevant authorities. WorkSafe Victoria has the power to inspect licensed brothels to ensure they comply with occupational health and safety laws. Anybody can report a workplace hazard to WorkSafe Victoria. When this occurs, an inspector may visit and, if necessary, commence enforcement action. Such visits are known as Responsive Visits.
Hazards in Licensed Brothels Identified by WorkSafe Inspectors
Records of WorkSafe Victoria inspections are known as Entry Reports. Entry Reports between 2007 and 2018 reveal the types of hazards reported to WorkSafe Victoria.
- Data extracted from Entry Reports as a result of Responsive and Compliance visits.
- Eleven year period: 1 July 2007 – 30 June 2018
- Reported hazards only included if they resulted in an inspection.
- Data relates to licensed brothels. Excludes Victoria’s estimated 500 illegal brothels.
- Hazards listed are alleged. Includes reports unsubstantiated upon inspection.
Are Brothel Owners Bound by Occupational Health and Safety Laws?
All businesses are bound by Victorian occupational health and safety laws and regulations. This includes both licensed and unlicensed brothels. The relationship between sex workers and brothel/escort agency owners is not an employee/employer relationship, rather sex workers are classified as private contractors. Despite not being classified as employees, all occupational health and safety laws do apply to brothel/escort agency owners and the sex workers contracted to work for them.
WorkSafe to Enforce New Industrial Manslaughter Laws
In 2019 new industrial manslaughter laws were passed in Victoria, applying to all industries including the sex industry. Under the new laws employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail. The new laws will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a non-employee – meaning that licensed brothel or escort owners could be held responsible if a sex worker or a client dies in a work setting. The laws came into effect from 1 July 2020.
The new laws are to be investigated by WorkSafe.
© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2020
Last updated: 12 August 2020