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Migrant Workers In Australia

This page relates to migration and trafficking issues in Australia. For a global view of the issue, link here

คุณมิยะ พิทยะ เจ้าหน้าที่โครงการ Migration Project ขององค์กร Scarlet Alliance แนะนำข้อมูลน่ารู้ และการขอความช่วยเหลือจากปัญหาการทำงาน สำหรับคนไทย ที่ประกอบอาชีพค้าบริการทางเพศในออสเตรเลีย
Link (Thai Language Only- SBS Radio- May, 2016)
[Listen to Migration Project Manager Miya talk about issues for migrant sex workers in Australia, the work of the Migration Project and how peer sex worker organisations by and for migrant sex workers best support migrant sex workers needs and rights. (Thai Language Only- SBS Radio- May, 2016)

"There seems to be an ignorance and voyeuristic fascination with migrant sex workers that is perpetuated by a seemingly never ending stream of ill informed and poorly researched media stories. Dangerously, these stories peddle well worn stereotypes which then become public opinion, and are the drivers behind bad policies that overstep the fair and reasonable application of the law. When it comes to migrant sex workers, fair and reasonable goes out the window, and the voices of actual migrant sex workers are always absent. The Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association Migration Project fights to represent the real situation for migrant sex workers to the media, government, organisations and public. We are staffed entirely by multilingual migrant sex workers. To ensure our work is truly representational of migrant sex workers, and is informed by a strong evidence base, we hold regular steering committee meetings with sex workers from Chinese, Korean and Thai language backgrounds to discuss and provide input into the issues that are affecting us. If you are a migrant sex worker and want to contact us or become involved with our steering committee, you can call us on (02) 9517 2577"
Excerpt from "WE ARE MIGRANT SEX WORKERS" Poster- as part of We Don't Cross Borders, Borders Cross Us Poster Collection.

Migrant sex workers are well travelled, experienced, empowered and independent.
Research and anecdotal evidence from sex worker organisations demonstrates that migrant sex workers are often older than their non-migrant counterparts. Many migrant sex workers have lived experiences overseas prior to coming to Australia and many report having previously engaged in sex work abroad. The vast majority of migrant sex workers in Australia have independently travelled to Australia. Because of the limited visa options for sex workers travelling to Australia, especially travelling from low income countries, sex workers may choose to engage an agent to facilitate their travel. This need to engage a third party agent is exacerbated by the lack of translated resources and forms when applying for a visa to Australia. Use of a migration agent is common and does not constitute trafficking. There has been a conflation of the terminology of trafficking and migration for sex work. Trafficking has been used as an excuse to introduce excessive regulation of the sex industry and the migration of people for sex work. The reality is that sex workers choose to travel and work, just as people in other occupations choose to do.
We are strong and choose when, where and how we work.
We choose to sex work for a variety of reasons. This is no different to the decisions people make to engage in any job. If we are not satisfied with our workplaces, we can choose to work somewhere else. If we no longer want to sex work we can choose to leave our jobs. The only threat to our freedom to work how and when we want comes from the restrictive legal environments that are being threatened in the name of anti-trafficking responses. These laws, which are allegedly for our own protection, restrict our movement and our right to choose our occupation. For the vast majority of migrant sex workers who choose to work, these laws only function to harass us, and discriminate against our choices.
We have a strong network of friends and peers who we turn to as our main source of information and support. Sex workers are most likely to turn to friends for information and support.
Research and anecdotal evidence supports this fact. demonstrates the value of peer support and information sharingIn an environment where police and immigration regularly raid our workplaces and harass us - allegedly to “rescue” us from supposed acts of “trafficking”; and many states and territories in Australia still criminalise sex work- it is no surprise that migrant sex workers do not trust anyone who is not a sex worker when accessing support. We have high rates of condom use and low rates of STIs and HIV. The consistent findings of numerous research projects have found that migrant and CALD sex workers have high rates of condom use at work. There is no measurable difference between the condom use of migrant and non migrant sex workers. The findings of these research projects have been supported by the continued low rates of STIs amongst sex workers. In Australia we still have no recorded instances of HIV transmission between sex worker and client. Despite these findings media outlets still refer to the supposed “compliance of submissive Asian women to demands of unsafe sex”.
We earn a good income and have workplace satisfaction and a good level of knowledge of sexual health, services and our workplace rights.
In the recent Scarlet Alliance Migration Project survey of 592 sex workers around Australia, sex workers report high level of income, workplace satisfaction and knowledge of workplace rights. Sex workers have always been proactive in regards to our sexual health. Our bodies are our business and we look after them. The harm reduction strategies employed in relation to sexual health services in Australia, whereby sex workers can access services confidentially and anonymously, are also conducive to high uptake of sexual health services by sex workers in Australia. The investment in peer education for and by sex workers means that promotion of these services is widespread.
Don't judge us because of our occupation.
Sex workers face a disproportionate amount of stigma and discrimination. This case is even more so for migrant sex workers who face dual stigma of sex worker and migrant. Many of the issues that arise for sex workers are not about our job or our feelings towards our job; instead they are about other people’s attitudes to us and our work. This negative perception is pervasive throughout society and manifests in bad media and laws; it manifests in how we are treated in our day to day interactions with services, banks, police and the people around us. Sex work is work and it is our choice to work. Ask yourself what it is about our jobs that make you judge us. Question the deep seated whorephobia and racism in society that perpetuates this ignorance. We are strong, independent and economically empowered.
We don't need your pity- we need our rights.
Choosing to travel and sex work gives us freedom, your racism and stereotypes confine us.

Scarlet Alliance Submission on 457 Visa Integrity Review (2014)

Migrant sex workers are part of the Australian workforce
Sex workers, like other workers, migrate internationally for a variety of reasons, including seeking improved working conditions and income. Research demonstrates that migrant sex workers find Australia to be a profitable location with comprehensive support networks and outreach services and a largely tolerant environment, where sex workers enjoy some of the lowest rates of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and HIV in the world. A number of projects with migrant sex workers have generated valuable demographic data on the lives, backgrounds, experiences and needs of migrant sex workers in Australia.

The most comprehensive study on migrant sex workers in Australia, coordinated by Scarlet Alliance and funded by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2009/10 found that migrant sex workers had a diversity of ages, are overwhelmingly well educated.

There are limited opportunities for migrant sex workers to work in Australia.
Currently, sex workers are not included on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL) and therefore are not eligible to apply for a 457 visa. There are limited options for sex workers to migrate for work in Australia. The exclusion of sex work from the 19 page Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List continues to limit sex worker’s legal options to travel. The 457 visa is the only long term temporary migration work visa, and unlike the working holiday visa, is not dependent on age. This is significant because research shows that migrant sex workers are often over 30 years of age. The working holiday and work and holiday visas are not available for many countries. The 457 visa is also the only visa that allows dependents and spouses of the primary visa holder to work in Australia, albeit with limited protections available.

Sex work is work
Sex work is recognised as work across different Australian regulatory systems, including the taxation system, industrial rights framework and occupational health and safety structure. If a person has work rights under their visa, they are permitted to sex work. Recognising sex work as work affords sex workers enhanced access to common law and statutory workplace rights, including occupational safety. The recognition of sex work as work affords us better control over our working rights and conditions, improves our abilities to implement safer sex practices, enhances opportunities for organising and industrial advocacy, and gives sex workers avenues for redress where our workplace rights are infringed. The exclusion from the CSOL contradicts DIBP’s own policies in the recognition of sex work as legitimate work.

Scarlet Alliance Research with Migrant Sex Workers 2014

Scarlet Alliance Submissions to the Attorney Generals Department 2011

Media archive

Scarlet Alliance past briefing papers

Briefing Paper October 2010 [in English], [in Chinese PDF], [in Chinese HTML], [in Korean HTML], [in Korean PDF], [in Thai PDF]

Briefing Paper April 2010 [in English PDF], [in Chinese PDF], [in Chinese HTML], [in Korean PDF], [in Korean HTML], [in Thai PDF]

Australian Trafficking Issues 2008

Trafficking Briefing Paper July 2009

Trafficking Briefing Paper August 2008

Trafficking Briefing Paper April 2008

Scarlet Alliance Submission to the 2008 US State Department Trafficking In Persons Report Download PDF

Scarlet Alliance Migration Working Party Anti-Trafficking Activities and Advocacy for Migrant Sex Workers Download PDF

Guidelines for Working With Trafficked People In Australia, 2mb, download, 2009

Australia has a very restrictive and arguably racist immigration policy that favours access to our country to those people with wealth. Therefore people from poorer regions and lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disadvantaged when trying to migrate here. Some sex workers from Asian countries enter into ‘contracts’ with people who will sponsor and assist their entry into Australia. This ‘contract’ arrangement is illegal under Federal Immigration & Sex Slavery Laws.

The illegal status of sex worker in Asian countries mitigates against many migrant workers in Australia from fully accessing their rights in terms of visas.

In the vast experience of Scarlet Alliance through its membership of State & territory sex worker organisations and projects the overwhelming majority of migrant sex workers have chosen to work in the Australian sex industry and have willingly entered into ‘contracts’ with agents to facilitate their passage and working arrangements whilst in Australia.

The coercive, ‘servile or slave-like ‘conditions that some sex workers find themselves in upon arrival are a direct result of the lack of access (percieved or real) to visas and sex workers reliance on third parties to organise travel and workplaces.

Therefore Scarlet Alliance recommends that the sex industry must be fully decriminalised in order to maximize OHS, industrial and other regulatory mechanisms.

Scarlet Alliance further recommends that the way to end "slavery" is to "free" the "slaves" by giving migrant sex workers rights and legal status, through legislation which will increase their power to reject slave-like contracts and conditions. Removal of the incentives and opportunities for "traders" to ‘traffic’ sex workers to Australia is created by an open, transparent visa system of entry to Australia for migrant sex workers. Taken from Sex Workers Outreach Project response to the Criminal Code Amendment (Slavery and Sexual Servitude) Bill 1998

It is clear that a punitive approach which targets the agents who facilitate passage into Australia of Asian sex workers will achieve little without the consideration of the complexity of the issues involved. The Australian Government must consider the rights of undocumented migrant sex workers as central to any public policy response… (Taken from Scarlet Alliance response to Discussion Paper #9, ‘Slavery’ Attorney General’s Committee)


Pornpit Puckmai and other Empower Foundation activists, Pornpit was the recipient of the Thai Human Rights Award in 2005

Related Articles, Links and Submissions

Submission on Labour Trafficking March 2011 Scarlet Alliance strongly opposes the introduction of a criminal justice response, and/or special criminalisation for forced labour in Australia as an addition to current criminal justice responses to sex work and trafficking. Criminalisation and subsequent deportation has led to an increased dependence and at times worse debt contract situations being entered into as the criminal justice response does not address the debt that remains owing even after the worker is "rescued". If the aim of Government is to decrease reliance on debt contracts by those coming to Australia for work, there are methods that will provide these outcomes without criminalising the target group who are pushed into unfair work situations.Dowload submission here

Submission on Forced and Servile Marriage March 2011 Scarlet Alliance strongly recommends a substantial time and financial investment be made into community organisations who represent those perceived to be affected by forced and servile marriage prior to the discussion of legislative and/or non-legislative means to prevent, prosecute and deliver human rights to those allegedly affected by these crimesDownload submission here

Sex Work, Migration and Trafficking Identity Matters: Non-Sex Workers Writing About Sex Work, review essay by Elena Jeffreys
A review of Red Lights, The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China by Tiantian Zheng, Patpong Sisters, An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World by Cleo Odzer, China, Sex and Prostitution by Elaine Jeffreys and Sex Trafficking by Siddharth Kara. Read more of this article at Intersections Journal

"Review of Employer Sanctions Legislation – Combating Illegal Work in Australia" June 2010 Download Submission to the Australian Government Inquiry, chaired by Mr Stephen Howells

WHY DON’T WE INTRODUCE MEDIA & RESEARCHERS TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAFFICKED? Briefing paper by Scarlet Alliance, May 2009 Download PDF

ANTI-TRAFFICKING MEASURES AND MIGRANT SEX WORKERS IN AUSTRALIA, 2009 One of the outcomes of anti-trafficking raids on brothels and increased policing in the sex industry is the negation of legislative benefits for migrant sex workers in Australia. There is concern that reduced rights for migrant sex workers, and therefore increased vulnerability to trafficking, are unintended consequences of anti-trafficking efforts in Australia. Link for full story.

DISPELLING MYTHS ABOUT SEX TRAFFICKING, 2009 Pornpit Puckmai is an articulate and proud sex worker from Empower Foundation, Chiang Mai, in Thailand. She spoke to CHERRIE Magazine in 2008 about mainstream feminists from Australia who would like to "rescue" her from sex work.Link to full story

TRAFFICKING PREVENTION - ITS TIME FOR ACTION, 2008 History tells us that punitive approaches to sex work have never been successful. Migrant sex workers are the collateral damage in this morally charged war against sex...Link to full story.

TRUTH AND VISAS WILL SET ASIAN SEX WORKERS FREE, 2008 The stereotype of the Asian sex slave captures the Australian imagination. When Puangthong Simaplee died in immigration detention in 2001, a story emerged of a girl trafficked to Australia at the age of 12 and forced to have sex as a slave. Her story was given under duress, after the Department of Immigration had taken her into detention, during the first phases of the pneumonia that eventually killed her...Link to full story.

Link to R v Wei Tang (2007) Supreme Court of Victoria Court of Appeal Ruling, 27 June 2007, Court of Appeal Decision, 29 June 2007 and related media

Submission on Proposed Amendments to the Federal Criminal Code 2004 Scarlet Alliance expresses concern over the Attorney General (Phillip Ruddocks) proposals to broaden the reach of Australian law in relation to the sex industry, limit the movement of migrant sex workers across domestic borders in Australia, and in general put more pressure on the sex industry in Australia as a site of illegal migrant labour.

Submission to Parliamentary Joint Committee; Trafficking in Women for Sexual Servitude This submission draws on Scarlets' premier position as the single organisation in Australia that has the most contact with migrant sex workers. Presented in 2003, this inquiry was the precurser to the 2005 changes to the Federal Criminal Code.

Thai Senate Delegation on the process of public participation SWOP June 2002 This document is written by Thai sex workers about the need for sex workers to be at the centre of the public policy debate about migrant sex workers.

RESPONSE TO THE CRIMINAL CODE AMENDMENT (SLAVERY AND SEXUAL SERVITUDE) BILL 1998 Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) August 1998 This document was released to Members of Parliament during the debate around Sexual Slavery in 1998. It covers Contracts, Working Conditions, The Right to Work and Travel, Women’s experiences and media misrepresentation, the effects of the proposed legislation and alternative solutions from the perspective of the organisation closest to these workers.

Briefing Paper CHAPTER 9; OFFENCES AGAINST HUMANITY; ‘SLAVERY’ Scarlet Alliance Addressed to the Standing Committee of the Attorneys-General (all State and Federal Attorney General’s) regarding the proposed changes (now law) to Australia’s treatment of people who migrate to Australia for sex work. Scarlet Alliance argues strongly that migrant workers in Australia need legitimisation, not criminalisation. “The most important support that the Australian Government could provide for these workers is to ratify the UN International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (the ‘Migrant Workers Convention’).”

Submission on Sexual Slavery Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Susan Halliday, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, August 1998 Written in response to a Discussion Paper on Slavery from the Criminal Law Division of the Attorney-General’s Department

Prostitutes Collective of Victoria "SIREN Speaks" 1994 Link to more information and to download PDF

Scarlet Alliance "Media Ethics and Non-English Speaking Background Sex Workers" 2005 Journalists need to understand the effects of exploiting the trust of sex workers. To a journalist, the article is a pay packet. For the sex workers involved, it is their entire life, their safety, their relationships with their family and community, and their dignity. Perhaps some of these sex workers at some time in their life would have decided to come out about their sex work, to their family, or to their community. However the journalist has taken the power away from them to be able to decide for themselves.