For Safety – End Support for the Nordic Model

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2022 National Delegate Conference
22 February 2022

Conference notes that UNISON’s policy on sex work, adopted in 2010, is to support decriminalising the selling of sexual services while introducing a sex buyers law criminalising those who purchase those services.

Conference recognises that the great majority of sex workers are women. Conference also recognises a significant number of women sex workers identify as LGBT+, and there are many gay, bisexual and trans sex workers who do not identify as women.

Conference notes that national LGBT+ conference policy:

1)Recognises that criminalisation of any kind, including of buyers, increases the risks for sex workers;

2)Opposes the introduction of a sex buyers law;

3)Recognises sex workers as workers who should have the same rights and protections as workers in other industries.

Conference further notes:

a)Significant developments since 2010 include Amnesty International’s 2016 policy on sex workers, which includes advocating for the decriminalisation of all aspects of consensual adult sex work;

b)That the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women published a report in 2011 which explored the impacts of anti-trafficking initiatives that utilise an ‘end demand’ approach, including the criminalisation of clients, and states that such approaches cause serious harm to sex workers by putting their livelihoods at risk, increasing the stigma they face, and intensifying police power over them;

c)Full decriminalisation is supported by many other organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Royal College of Nursing, Human Rights Watch, Freedom United, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, ILGA World, ILGA Europe, Transgender Europe, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Survivors UK, The Gemini Project, Anti Slavery International, and sex workers organisations;

d)It is also supported by trade unions including GMB, ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen), UCU (University and College Union), BFAWU (Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union), UVW (United Voices of the World) and the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers);

e)The adoption by 2022 UNISON women’s conference of the motion “For safety – End Support for the ‘Nordic Model’” which called on women’s conference to stop supporting the Nordic Model, a legal model based on decriminalising the selling of sexual services while introducing a ‘sex buyers law’;

f)Poverty, benefit cuts and sanctions have led to an increase in the number of women working in the sex industry, and long waits for Universal Credit payments have led to some turning to ‘survival’ sex work to pay rent and put food on the table.

Conference further notes New Zealand decriminalised sex work in 2003. The legislation recognises sex work as work, and therefore covered by employment law. The law treats sex workers consent as crucial and gives them the legal right to refuse any client for any reason at any point.

The ‘New Zealand model’ has been praised by women’s rights organisations and international bodies including the WHO as the best legal approach to protect the safety, rights, and health, of people who sell sex.

Conference recognises that decriminalisation is not about ‘encouraging’ sex work – it’s about the safety of people who sell sex. No legal model anywhere in the world has been shown to increase, or decrease, the number of people who sell sex. The evidence is that all that laws can change is whether people do sex work in dangerous conditions or in safer conditions.

Conference believes that UNISON should not call for laws that put sex workers, including women and LGBT+ sex workers, at greater risk.

Conference therefore resolves that UNISON should not call for the introduction of a sex buyers law, and instructs the National Executive Council to begin a dialogue with the National LGBT+ Committee, National Women’s Committee and other appropriate bodies within the union with a view to reviewing and advancing UNISON policy in this area.