Harriet Harman has accused two major unions of “legitimising exploitation” after they backed the decriminalisation of sex work.
Aslef and the GMB will on Wednesday urge the Trades Union Congress conference to decriminalise prostitution, claiming it would improve safety for the thousands of men and women who work in the sex industry. The unions want the TUC and the government to back the launch of a scheme where sex workers have full legal protection.
Opponents say the move could increase sexism and violence against women, legitimise grooming and make schoolgirls grow up seeing prostitution as a “career choice”.
The former deputy Labour leader tweeted her opposition to the motion and urged TUC delegates to vote it down:
The Aslef motion, which is backed by the GMB, demands the overturning of legislation which “forces sex workers to work alone, leaving workers vulnerable to crime and the threat of losing access to their families”.
It says “austerity measures since 2010 have led to an increase in the number of people working in the sex industry”, and claims that many people would not choose to work in the sex industry and do so “because of economic necessity rather than criminal coercion”.
It says “sex workers should have the same rights as those in other industries”.
The motion supports the New Zealand model of “full decriminalisation which would give sex workers protections as workers in law”.
At a fraught TUC fringe meeting on Monday, sex workers pushed the case for decriminalisation – saying the current law infringed their human rights by preventing them from setting up brothels. They were criticised by campaigners who said prostitution demeaned women.
One critic argued that the New Zealand model would mean women could set up small brothels without any registration. She said: “That is the model you want for this country: to bring prostitution to every street corner so all our daughters can choose to work there. What about the right of women not to be prostituted?”
A delegate from the National Education Union said thousands of schoolgirls were being groomed. “The problem is if you say it’s a job like every other … sex working will be presented as a viable option, a career choice,” he said.