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Jemima Walsh pp. Australia has become the first country to unionise the world's oldest profession, promising prostitutes the same rights afforded any other worker. By Jemima Walsh. She cannot leave because the brothel owner has custody of her three-year-old son. In a massage parlour, the owner abuses the workers, who are mostly underage. At an escort agency, women are sacked if they refuse a training session with a man who gives them a rating out of 10 for various sex acts.
Similar mistreatments are being documented by prostitutes throughout Australia on a daily basis. But, finally, the oldest profession is fighting back. In a world first, sex workers have formed their own union, registered with the ACTU.
About years after Australia's first unions were formed, the struggle for sex workers has only just begun. And while some are too scared to speak out, there is general consensus it is time these women were accorded the same rights as the rest of Australia's workers.
As well as fighting unfair dismissals and mistreatment, union officials are pushing for an award wage, holiday, sickness, annual and maternity leave occupational health and safety provisions, overtime, superannuation and meal breaks. Work conditions union officials say all Australians take for granted. Powered by the legalisation of prostitution in the ACT and more recently the decriminalisation of brothels in Victoria, NSW, Australia's sex industry is undergoing some radical changes.
And while brothels are still illegal in other States, sex workers say it is only a matter of time before such practices are decriminalised across the country. In Western and South Australia, the issue was hotly debated in parliament in and is due for review this year. Pioneering prostitutes' rights and union lobbyists Maryann Phoenix, who helped establish the Prostitutes' Collective of Victoria PVC , a voluntary community based support group, and Ruth Frenzel.