Report from Washington DC
23 July 2012
On Monday, representatives of sex workers made a passionate and well-argued case for the recognition of their employment and human rights in a lively session on the margins of the XIX International AIDS Conference now being held in Washington DC.
A number of panellists spoke about the working conditions of sex workers in graphic detail interspersed with photos of the dirt and squalor in which sex workers eke out a living in some countries. They pointed to the lack of basic hygiene, health and safety and the violence they are often subjected to in their daily working life. They stressed that there was a need to recognise their employment rights through appropriate legislation.
In a comprehensive presentation, Noi Chantawipa Apisuk, Director, Empower Foundation, in Thailand faulted the Thai Government for harassing sex workers on a daily basis while reaping the economic benefits of tourism partly stimulated by the sex trade. She explained how their working conditions could be improved through the recognition of employment rights, especially the implementation of ILO Conventions. She detailed the measures needed to be taken to improve their lives. And she pointed out that although the Thai Government had expressed willingness to collaborate with them in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it relentlessly pursued a policy of harassment and intimidation towards them and that they were denied the right to form unions.
Alice Quedraogo, Director of ILO-AIDS, told the meeting that the ILO recognised sex workers' rights to decent working conditions, that it had supported a number of initiatives to provide training through schemes such as the Community-based Enterprise Development (C-BED) for sex workers in Thailand and that improved access to health services including HIV prevention, treatment and care should be an essential component of support programmes. She emphasised that ILO Recommendation (R200) on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work was applicable to sex workers, that the UN definition of work covered sex work as well and that the ILO had long supported campaigns for the recognition of their employment and human rights.
Union Aid Abroad shared the findings of a study conducted for the ILO in Cambodia. The closure of garment factories due to the Global Economic Crisis had driven a large number of workers into sex work under precarious conditions. In the interaction session with a gathering of sex workers n Calcutta, sex workers demanded that their employment rights be recognised by the ILO. This was greeted with loud applause from the audience which included trade unionists, employers' representatives and civil society organisations. Referring to the controversy over the criminalisation of clients, sex workers' reps seemed unanimous in their rejection of any attempt by governments in this regard.
The event was jointly organised in the conference's 'Global Village' by the ILO and some interested NGOs including Union Aid Abroad, the development arm of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
Briefing document (500 words) issued 24 Jul 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-21266-f0.cfm
printed 19 May 2013 at 20:12 hrs by 22.214.171.124