May Day is celebrated around Europe as International Workers Day.
A day were we traditionally celebrate workers and demand fair treatment and rights from our employers and governments.
This year for the first time SWAI took part in the May Day march in Dublin.
We walked shoulder to shoulder with other workers, celebrating our profession and asking for our rights.
The May day celebrations in Ireland and else where are generally lead by politically left leaning groups and trade unions. These groups have traditionally fought for labour rights for workers and particularly vulnerable workers who are at risk of exploitation.
However there is one group of workers that trade unions particularly have let down in Ireland – sex workers.
The trade union movement in Ireland was an early member of TORL. Various unions from electricians to nurses have all spoken out against the rights of sex workers.
Indeed the ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) submitted a paper to the Justices department consultation on Prostitution saying that
“prostitution could not be considered work”
With this one line The ICTU is denying the rights of 100’s of sex workers, to organise and have the same rights and benefits as won and enjoyed by other workers.
This position by the ICTU and Irish unions also goes against the position of other national and international unions policy on sex work.
In fact the International Labour Organisation of which the ICTU is a member issued a report in 1998 called “The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia”
In which it states:
“For those adult individuals who freely choose sex work, the policy concerns should focus on improving their working conditions and social protection, and ensuring that they are entitled to the same labour rights and benefits as other workers.”
In various countries sex worker organisations have organised into or joined unions.
In 2002 Red Thread a prostitutes’ rights group in the Netherlands formed a union and became a member of the FNV union confederation,
In New Zealand the Unite Union began to organise sex workers in 2004 in order for them to demand rights like all other workers.
Today in New Zealand sex workers have full employment rights and are protected against discrimination and work place harassment.
We in Ireland ask Unions and supporters of the left to stand up for the rights of sex workers, for their protection dignity and respect.
The same rights the movement has fought for and won for other workers.