Sex Workers in Scotland Can Now Join U.K.'s 3rd Largest Union

Sex Workers in Scotland Can Now Join U.K.'s 3rd Largest Union

GLASGOW, Scotland — The U.K.’s third largest trade union, GMB, will allow sex workers in Scotland to join a newly created adult entertainment branch, the BBC reports.

This is the first time workers in Scotland can join a trade union to advocate and fight for their rights specifically as members of the sex industries.

"For many years, GMB has supported the decriminalisation of sex work to better protect workers,” Rhea Wolfson, the GMB organizer for Glasgow and Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Livingston told the BBC. “Sex work is work and it should be safe.”

Wolfson added she hoped the sex workers will become a fully established branch of the union, just like any other branch of the GMB.

According to Glasgow’s Evening Times, there are an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 sex workers in the UK, 80 percent of whom are women.

The GMB is a general trade union in the U.K. whose aim is “to represent all workers.” They claim over 620,000 members “who work in every type of job imaginable across public services and in private companies too. Our members work in full-time jobs, part-time jobs or are working while they study.”

The status of Scotland’s sex workers mirrored the status of sex workers in England and other parts of the U.K. until 1999, when a separate Scottish Parliament was established following the Scottish devolution referendum of 1997. Since then Scotland has been pursuing its own independent policy regarding the status of sex workers.

It is not illegal to sell sexual services in Scotland, or to work in the erotic entertainment industry. However, the laws against “soliciting” (street-walking) and “brothel-keeping” (defined as having more than one sex worker operating from a single location) are strict.

In 2017, the Scottish National Party (SNP), the largest political party in Scotland, holding a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, proposed amending the laws and policies concerning sex workers following what is known as “the Nordic Model.”

The SNP proposed a smiliar “Scottish model,” which would decriminalize the sale of sex, but ban the purchase of sex and provide support to those wishing to exit what they call “commercial sexual exploitation.”

A SNP party conference adopted a controversial resolution that stated that “commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution and human trafficking, is a form of violence against women.” Conflating prostitution and trafficking is a common strategy of anti-sex work advocates and prohibitionists both in the U.K. and the U.S.

Sex workers in Scotland have rallied against the SNP’s proposal, arguing that it would not contribute to better working conditions or harm reduction.

“Sex work covers everything from stripping to burlesque, go-go dancers, cam workers, people who make porn – any sort of sexual labour or erotic service is under sex work,” Glasgow dominatrix and union organizer Megara Furie told The Herald newspaper.

According to Furie, policies based on “the Nordic Model,” which criminalizes people who pay for sex and the advertising of sexual services, makes sex work even less safe than other options.

“Even if you criminalize clients,” Furie said, “it’s not going to end demand. Basically, all it does is remove any safe-guards that we’ve got.”

“Where would you go if you were in a ‘normal job’ and someone was making your job unsafe?” Furie asked. “You’d go to a union. You’d join a union and they’d stick up for you.”

The GMB’s adult entertainment branch is also explicitly including sex workers who are trans and BME, a U.K. acronym that stands for “black and minority ethnic” and it’s used to refer to members of non-white communities.

"There is an estimate there could be about 80,000 people working in the sex industry across the U.K.,” Wolfson told the BBC. “It is a huge unseen workforce and we need to make sure their voices are heard because for so long they have been shut out of the conversation. Sex work is work and deserves the right to legal protection."