Sex work is work, so say the Victorian Parliament

Sex work is work, so say the Victorian Parliament

The Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 passed by the Victorian Parliament earlier this year will change the way sex work is treated under workers’ compensation law. This landmark legislation largely decriminalises sex work within Victoria and the sex work industry will now be subject to the same regulations, laws and, most importantly, workers’ protections, currently applied to all other Victorian workers.

What are the changes to legislation?

Victoria has now become the third jurisdiction in Australia, and the fourth jurisdiction in the world, to decriminalise sex work. As of 10 May 2022, criminal penalties for engaging in consensual sex with independent unregistered sex workers, including street-based sex workers, will be largely scrapped, decriminalising the solicitation of sex workers who are not licensed or otherwise working out of registered brothels.

More importantly, this means that the sex work industry will now be regulated by the same frameworks that govern all other Victorian workers, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRCA).

Further, from 1 December 2023 the Sex Work Act will be repealed altogether.

Sex work and workers’ compensation

Currently there are strict licensing requirements for brothels and individuals wishing to engage in sex work. This means many sex workers are forced to operate outside of the perimeters of the law and subsequently are not provided the safe working protections in place under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and Sex Work Regulation 2006.

Whilst the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022 does not specifically amend legislation regulated by WorkSafe, from a practical perspective, the abolishment of the Sex Work Act will allow a greater number of sex workers to operate legally, and therefore be regulated by WorkSafe and have access to workers’ compensation.

Can I make a WorkCover claim?

Under section 39(1) of the WIRCA, an individual may have an entitlement to compensation if they are a worker, or deemed worker, and sustain an injury arising out of, or in the course of any employment.

Who is a sex worker?

Under section 3 of the WIRCA, a worker includes an individual who:

  • performs work for an employer; or
  • agrees with an employer to perform work at their employer’s discretion, instruction or request, even if they do not have a formal contract with the employer.

We note that individuals working as independent contractors out of registered brothels or otherwise at the direction of another individual may also be deemed workers in certain circumstances.

What type of injuries am I able to claim?

Under the WIRCA, workers can bring claims for both psychological and physical injuries. Physical injuries include sexually transmitted diseases and may entitle you to compensation if you have contracted one in the course of your work.

More information

If you have been injured whilst engaging in sex work, it is important to seek legal advice so that you understand your rights and entitlements. To arrange a free initial consultation to discuss your claim, call our legal team directly on (03) 9321 9988.

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