SCOT-PEP's response to the ILO consultation on violence and harassment in the workplace

SCOT-PEP's response to the ILO consultation on violence and harassment in the workplace

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this consultation on violence and harassment at work. SCOT-PEP is a charity and sex worker-led organisation that campaigns for the rights of all sex workers in Scotland. Our organisation is comprised of current and former sex workers and allies. Those of us with sex working experience have done many different kinds of sex work, and from many perspectives: many of us are migrants, some are British; many of us work (or have worked) in criminalised conditions - for example on the street, or in working flats - and we’ve all worked for different reasons, at different times in our lives: to support our families; to support our drug use; to fund our education, and simply to pay our bills.

What unites everyone within SCOT-PEP is the knowledge that sex work is work; that sex workers are best served by a legal system that recognises them as workers and as such endows them with labour rights (as in New Zealand); that sex workers are vulnerable to violence and exploitation because they currently work in conditions that criminalise and those associated with them, and that sex workers are the experts on how to make sex work safer.

As we are a small, voluntary organisation, we have not attempted to answer every question. We have instead focused only on the questions which are most relevant to our work and expertise.

Our response starts below.

Should the Preamble of the instrument or instruments recognize that an inclusive and integrated approach, tackling underlying causes and risk factors, is essential to ending violence and harassment in the world of work?

The instruments should recognise that underlying factors of violence and harassment against sex workers include criminalisation and discrimination. Criminalisation of sex work (including third parties such as managers, drivers and receptionists) means that sex workers are made vulnerable to violence in a number of ways that are often unrecognized, and as such we ask that this is clearly reflected in the language of this instrument. Likewise stigma and discrimination against sex workers are underlying factors for increased violence as they preclude sex workers from accessing services (including government services), and can lead to increased isolation.  

Furthermore, the language used in the instrument must not conflate sex work alone as a risk factor for violence – rather the conditions around sex work (including criminalisation and stigma) are factors for increased violence.

Finally, the instrument must not use language to suggest that third parties and clients within the sex industry are universally perpetrators of violence. This removes sex workers' ability to meaningfully differentiate between a client or manager who respects their boundaries, and a client or manager who breaks their boundaries.


For the purposes of the instrument or instruments should the term “worker” cover persons in any employment or occupation, irrespective of their contractual status, and in all sectors of the economy – formal or informal – including:

(a) persons in training, internships and apprenticeships;

(b) volunteers;

(c) jobseekers; and

(d) laid-off and suspended workers?

The recognition of sex work as work is integral to the fulfillment of sex workers’ rights and access to justice. As such, we ask that the instrument or instruments explicitly name sex workers as one of the subsets of workers covered. This would not be a substantive change for the ILO, as we note that the minutes of the ILO discussion on resolution 200 (the Report of the Committee on HIV/AIDS Provisional Record No.13 [Rev]) make clear that sex workers are covered by resolution 200 (see paragraphs 204 - 205).

We ask that sex workers are mentioned specifically as part of this instrument in recognition of their particular vulnerability to violence and harassment in the workplace, and the specific underlying factors that influence this vulnerability – including criminalisation, stigma and discrimination. Furthermore we ask that the instrument not conflate sex work alone as a risk factor for violence, and that the instrument does not use language to suggest that third parties and clients within the sex industry are universally perpetrators of violence.


Should the Convention provide that, with a view to eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work, each Member should respect, promote and realize the fundamental principles and rights at work, namely freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation?

We request that the instrument(s) developed regarding collective bargaining explicitly and consistently state that these rights apply to workers in informal sectors, and sex workers in particular, including the right to associate and to collective bargaining.


Should the Convention provide that each Member should adopt national laws and regulations prohibiting all forms of violence and harassment in the world of work, and in particular all forms of gender-based violence?

We request that the instrument(s) developed explicitly and consistently state that these rights apply to workers in informal sectors, and sex workers in particular. We further request that we instrument(s) do not position sex work in itself as a form of gender-based violence, but instead acknowledge that due to multiple and intersecting factors, sex workers are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence in the workplace. It is SCOT-PEP’s view that the criminalisation of sex work should be recognised in the instrument(s) as a form of gender-based violence, as the harms of sex work criminalisation – including police harassment, arrest, prosecution, eviction, and deportation – disproportionately fall on women (both trans and cis).


Should the Convention provide that each Member should develop laws, regulations and policies ensuring the right to equality and non-discrimination for all workers, including for women workers as well as workers belonging to one or more groups disproportionately affected by violence and harassment, including:

(a) young workers;

(b) migrant workers;

(c) workers with disabilities;

(d) workers from indigenous and tribal peoples;

(e) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex workers;

(f) workers living with HIV; and

(g) workers from marginalized communities, such as caste-affected persons, and members of ethnic minorities?

If others please specify.

We would strongly recommend that this Convention include sex workers as part of the list of groups particularly impacted by violence and harassment in the workplace. Member protections against discrimination at work must also be applied to the sex industry. The Convention should wherever possible make clear that decriminalization of the sex industry is imperative for the protection and full realization of workers’ rights, and protection from employment discrimination both within the sex industry and in other industries. In Scotland (where SCOT-PEP works), clients of street-based sex workers were criminalized under the prostitution in public places act (2008) – which led to a 50% increase in violence against street-based sex workers within the first six months of the law. We ask that it be recognized in the Convention that the criminalisation of sex work is a key cause of workplace violence and harassment for sex workers.


Should the Convention provide that each Member should take appropriate measures to ensure the monitoring and enforcement of national laws and regulations regarding violence and harassment in the world of work?

The meaningful involvement of workers and workers’ associations is key to the successful implementation of workplace policies on violence and harassment for sex workers. Measures to combat workplace violence and harassment against sex workers should go beyond consultation with sex workers, but rather involve collaboration with and input from sex workers and workers’ collectives throughout the process from inception to delivery. We also ask that the language used in this Recommendation, and other Recommendations on this topic, clearly and consistently reflect this objective in the language used.

We would add that we believe that the Convention should explicitly state the necessity of a firewall between the monitoring and enforcement of workers’ rights provisions and the action and information of immigration officials. If this firewall is not in place, the monitoring and enforcement of workers’ rights becomes an opportunity for immigration officials to gather intelligence that they use for immigration-related arrests and deportations. This has the effect of shutting off migrant workers from the ability to assert their workplace rights, as doing so may draw the attention of immigration officials. In order for migrant workers, including undocumented migrant workers, to have full workplace protections, this firewall must be in place.


Should the Convention provide that each Member should, in consultation with representative employers’ and workers’ organizations, take measures to ensure that:

(a) violence and harassment in the world of work is addressed in relevant national policies, such as occupational safety and health, equality and non-discrimination, including gender equality, and migration policies;

(b) guidance, resources and other tools are provided to workers, employers and their representatives, and to enforcement authorities regarding violence and harassment in the world of work; and

(c) awareness-raising campaigns and other initiatives are developed with the aim of eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence?

The meaningful involvement of workers and workers’ associations is key to the successful implementation of workplace policies on violence and harassment for sex workers. Measures to combat workplace violence and harassment against sex workers should go beyond consultation with sex workers, but rather involve collaboration with and input from sex workers and workers’ collectives throughout the process from inception to delivery. We also ask that the language used in this Recommendation, and other Recommendations on this topic, clearly and consistently reflect this objective in the language used.


Should the Recommendation provide that Members should ensure that workers in sectors, occupations and work arrangements with a higher incidence of violence and harassment fully enjoy freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in accordance with the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)?

SCOT-PEP strongly supports this proposal, and request that the instrument specifically name sex workers as a group covered by this Recommendation. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace violence and harassment due to criminalisation and other punitive restrictions linked to sex work. Decriminalisation of the sex industry has been shown to lead to increased access to workers’ rights and better health outcomes, and collective organising is a key means by which workers are able to assert workplace rights (including the right to work free from violence and harassment), as well as their access to health and legal services.

For example, in New Zealand – where sex work is fully decriminalised – a sex worker was able to use mainstream labour law to take her employer to a workplace tribunal to challenge his workplace sexual harassment of her. To take her manager to an employment tribunal in this way would be unimaginable in a criminalised context, where workers are forced to work without the protections of labour law. The sex worker won her case, with the tribunal commenting: “Sex workers are as much entitled to protection from sexual harassment as those working in other occupations … Sex workers have the same human rights as other workers.” (See DML v Montgomery and M & T Enterprises Ltd.)


Should the Recommendation provide that Members should take measures to:

(a) encourage collective bargaining at all levels as a means of preventing and addressing violence and harassment in the world of work; and

(b) facilitate such collective bargaining through the collection and dissemination of information on trends and good practices regarding the negotiation process and the content of collective agreements?

We strongly support measures to encourage collective bargaining as a means to asserting workers’ rights and preventing and addressing violence in the workplace. We would ask that sex workers are specifically named as part of this Recommendation in recognition of their particular vulnerability to violence and harassment in the workplace, and due to the many factors which currently limit or block sex workers’ access to collective bargaining – in particular, criminalisation, which is a de facto block to this fundamental rights tool. Sex workers’ demands for collective organising has been central to the global sex worker advocacy movement and as such we ask that it be clearly recognized under this Recommendation.


Should the Recommendation provide that, in developing and implementing workplace policies on violence and harassment, employers should:

(a) establish violence and harassment prevention programmes with measurable objectives;

(b) outline the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers;

(c) ensure that workers and their representatives are consulted, informed and trained;

(d) provide information on complaint and investigation procedures; and

(e) ensure that all internal and external communications related to violence and harassment are duly considered and acted upon?

The meaningful involvement of workers and workers’ associations is key to the successful implementation of workplace policies on violence and harassment for sex workers. This can only be fully achieved through decriminalisation: in a criminalised context, employers are unable and unwilling to engage with these measures because to do so would involve evidencing their actions in such a way that would leave them vulnerable to prosecution.

Measures to combat workplace violence and harassment against sex workers should go beyond consultation with sex workers, but rather involve collaboration with and input from sex workers and workers’ collectives throughout the process from inception to delivery. We also ask that the language used in this Recommendation, and other Recommendations on this topic, clearly and consistently reflect this objective in the language used.


Should the Recommendation provide that workplace risk assessments should take into account factors that increase the likelihood of violence and harassment, in particular psychosocial hazards and risks, including those arising from third parties such as clients and the public, and the presence of negative power relations, gender norms, cultural and social norms, and discrimination?

The instruments should recognise that underlying factors of violence and harassment against sex workers include criminalisation, stigma and discrimination. Criminalisation of sex work (including third parties) ensures that sex workers are more vulnerable to violence in a number of ways that are often unrecognized, and as such we ask that this is clearly reflected in the language of this instrument. Likewise stigma and discrimination against sex workers are underlying factors for increased violence, as they preclude sex workers from accessing services (including government services), and can lead to increased isolation.  

Furthermore, the language used in the instrument must not conflate sex work alone as a risk factor for violence – rather the conditions around sex work (including criminalisation and stigma) are factors for increased violence.

Finally, the instrument must not use language to suggest that third parties and clients within the sex industry are universally perpetrators of violence. This removes sex workers' ability to identify and report violence they experience.


Should the Recommendation provide that Members should:

(a) adopt specific measures for sectors, occupations and work arrangements which are more exposed to violence and harassment, including night work, work in isolation,  services, healthcare, emergency services, domestic work, transport, education and entertainment; and

(b) ensure that these measures do not in any manner exclude or restrict the participation of women or other groups of workers?

We would ask that the Recommendation reflect the particular vulnerability to violence faced by sex workers due to criminalisation of sex work. To do so would entail that the Recommendation demand the full decriminalisation of sex work as a necessary first step in tackling sex workers’ specific vulnerabilities to violence and harassment in the workplace. We also ask that the Recommendation reflect the need for meaningful involvement of sex workers and sex workers’ collectives in the formation of policies on violence and harassment in the workplace, and we again highlight that this meaningful involvement is not fully possible in a criminalised context. As such, the full decriminalisation of sex work must be named as the key first step in protecting sex workers from violence and harassment in the workplace.