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TUC Congress gave an overwhelming thumbs down to the decriminalisation of prostitution yesterday in an impassioned debate over a motion put forward by train drivers’ union Aslef.
Moving the motion, which called upon the TUC to support the New Zealand model of full decriminalisation, Aslef assistant general secretary Simon Weller said: “Decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand in 2003, with verifiable success.”
He argued that adopting of the model would also help to “free up police time.”
Under the New Zealand Act, sex workers’ rights were guaranteed through employment and human rights legislation and the buying and selling of sex was decriminalised.
However the model has been criticised by various campaign groups including the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, which argues that prostitution contributes to violence against women through male objectification.
The motion also received strong opposition at the Congress. Speaking on behalf of the TUC general council, Prospect deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said the TUC Women’s Conference had rejected a similar proposal from Aslef earlier this year.
Ms Ferns said that the motion was inaccurate in stating that current legislation forces sex workers to work alone.
She said that Crown Prosecution Service “guidance says that it is not illegal to sell sex in a brothel. What is illegal is to manage or control others working in a brothel.”
Julie Phipps of Unite also spoke in opposition. “The sale of your body is not the same as selling your labour,” she said to applause.
The National Education Union expressed particular concern about the implications of the motion for young people. Philipa Harvey said: “A third of women in the sex industry enter before the age of 18.”
She also pointed out that a common request from sex purchasers is “give me the youngest you’ve got.”
Penny Smith of Unison warned against “pretending that prostitution is not gendered.”
She said: “It is women — far and away it is women — who are exploited, and it is men who exploit them."
Zita Holbourne of PCS said that her union was abstaining because, while there was a strong recognition that “women are too often viewed as sex objects,” there was “a need for further discussion and debate within our union.”
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