Right to Association for Sex Work

Sex Work as Labour

NTUI recognises sex work as ‘work’ as it necessarily involves a sale of labour power in the most literal sense of the word ‘labour’. Also given its inherent exploitative character it is far from having a component of pleasure and therefore can be viewed as a distinct form of ‘forced’ labour. In our understanding the underlying issue in sex work is exploitation; and not as work that provides pleasure and taken up as a matter of choice by the workers.

As sex work involves selling of labour power, it therefore requires to be regulated. We therefore believe that legal recognition of sex work, as ‘work’ will ensure safety, human dignity and social acceptance. But at the same time, this recognition should not be used to promote sexual labour. Legalising sex work is to ensure that the workers in this sector have a legal identity and therefore can assert certain rights within a legal framework.

Entertainment, Pleasure and Sex Work

In clubbing sex work within a framework of entertainment raises the uncomfortable question of whether a sex worker derives any pleasure out of this work. The entertainment industry even with its own exploitative structure gives space to its workers and artists to pursue a trade within a regulatory framework. On the other hand, sex work has no form of state regulation and given its ‘immoral’ status under Indian law, is not even considered to be work. As we understand it is essential to draw a difference between forced labour and unforced labour. Economic status of families from where sex workers come is the determining factor whether it is an occupation selected out of choice or has been forced by circumstances.

What is pleasure and who derives this pleasure? ‘Pleasure’, which involves sexual labour and exploitation, cannot be distorted to be called a human right. The notion of universally accepted human right incorporates the notion of freedom and hence sex work, which inherently involves deception, violence and exploitation, cannot be a human right.

Keeping this in mind we would like to share our discomfort at clubbing all manner of entertainment workers under one banner. In doing so, we believe that we are not dividing the workforce but identifying sections in the so-called ‘entertainment’ industry who are the exploited. Clubbing exploitative and non-exploitative work together creates confusion in the struggle. There is definitely a class within this sector that is actively engaged in extracting the surplus generated by these sex workers and who definitely are not performing any of the work that is done. This class of exploiters, though belongs to the industry, cannot be viewed to be having the same interest as the workers. There is definitive capital accumulation by this exploitative class at the cost of the workers.

Further, the notion of pleasure as a human right can only be considered a rightful demand if the same is associated with a notion of freedom. Sexual labour provides pleasure to a class of people who are not the service providers. ‘Pleasure’ is a term in complete conflict with the notion of work and labour. Sex work, which inherently involves deception, violence and exploitation, cannot give pleasure and definitely cannot be a human right.

Right to Association

The Right to Association is a fundamental right and in denying this right to the Sex Workers the Indian state is grossly violating its own Constitution. There is no denying the fact that this is a trade that has existed over centuries, employing large number of workers under extremely exploitative conditions. Prohibitory legislations over the years have only resulted in increasing marginalisation and hence in a higher level of exploitation of workers engaged in this trade. It is therefore essential to first recognise this work and then bring it within a regulatory framework. Legal recognition of sex work as work will ensure safety, human dignity and social acceptance but should not be used to promote sexual labour. Legalising sex work is to ensure that the workers in this sector have a legal identity and therefore can assert certain rights within a legal framework. Trade unions have a crucial role to play in demanding this and NTUI stands by all such demands for recognition and regulation of work.