Parliament approves labour law for sex work

[03/05/2024] Last night at 0:29 a.m., the first labor law for sex workers was approved by the Belgian federal Parliament by a large majority. The Parliament voted with 93 votes in favor, 33 abstentions and 0 votes against. This is an extraordinary success and another milestone in the fight for equal rights for sex workers.

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Working as a self-employed sex worker was already possible in Belgium. This new law makes it possible for sex workers to also work under an employment contract. In the first place, this means access to social security: pension, unemployment, health insurance, family benefits, annual vacation, maternity leave, etc.. At the same time, the law ensures that sex workers in the workplace are protected from work-related risks and not anyone can become an employer.

Freedoms of sex workers

Central to the new law are the freedoms of sex workers: any sex worker may choose to refuse a client or a sexual act, interrupt an act or perform it however they wish. Those who wish to become employers must not have incurred convictions for serious crimes, must appoint a reference person for the sex worker's safety and provide an alarm button that immediately connects to the reference person.

The bill was drafted over a two-year period by the Belgian Labor, Health and Justice Cabinets. UTSOPI and the support organizations Violett and Espace P were closely consulted on numerous occasions. Sex workers were given the opportunity to read the texts and their feedback was taken into account.

Future risks

The labor law was the necessary next step after the decriminalization of sex work, voted in March 2022. "Without a labor law, employing a sex worker under contract remained a criminal offense," says Daan Bauwens of the organization UTSOPI, "leaving sex workers with the choice between self-employment or a semi-legal contract in a gray zone with no guaranteed rights or protection. Without a labor law, sex workers would still be legally discriminated against. That is now over."

UTSOPI simultaneously points out that the work is not over. The laws have been voted, now comes the development of policies. "The new laws can be misused to fight sex work. Already we see certain municipalities hiding behind the words "safety" and "hygiene" to promulgate very strict local regulations that make sex work almost impossible on their territory. We must ensure that the new laws benefit all sex workers and do not turn into a policy of chasing the most vulnerable sex workers," said the sex worker's rights advocate.

Now that the labor law has been voted, the organization is focusing on the protection of undocumented sex workers and large-scale sensitization so that sex workers recognize situations of exploitation and know where to turn.

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