Strippers pay thousands in fines and bonds to perform: ‘I was now losing money’

Photo: Fourni / Gabbrielle Bisset of Ellbis Intimates

Sex workers say they have to ‘pay to work’ as strip clubs across New Zealand demand bail and deduct fines from their wages.

Hired in strip clubs as contractors instead of employees, performers lack the protection of the law.

Through sometimes handwritten contracts, clubs took on thousand-dollar bonds and fined dancers hundreds for things like taking sick leave or showing up late for work.

Vixen Temple*, 26, has worked in the sex industry for four years.

She claimed that most of the strip clubs she worked at didn’t follow the rules.

“The contract is so dodged, but you’re not allowed to work until you sign it, and you’re often in a rush to sign it.

“You know, you just need to make money,” she said.

In 2019, Temple said he was asked to post $1,100 bail to start working at Auckland Showgirls strip club.

In his contract, the “administrative provision” was justified by the club because the entertainer was using the club’s facilities as a contractor.

The agreement also stipulated that the club could increase the deposit by up to an additional $1,000 in the event of high turnover, holidays, and national or sporting events.

Temple said with the exploitation of dancers comes the stigma of the industry.

“You don’t hear this happening with other independent contractors, but because these managers know the general public doesn’t care about the safety of sex workers, they know we know we don’t have anyone to who we turn to.”

Temple said she was paid daily in cash from tips and private dances and that bail was not the only charge taken from her salary.

After an incident of post-traumatic stress, Temple said she called in sick to work, which she is legally entitled to do.

But the club thought differently, she said.

“They emailed me later in the week saying they were going to fine me $200 or $250 because I didn’t show up for my shift and I said, ‘But I gave you a doctor’s note, I gave you an hour’s notice, I’m sorry I can’t tell you more, I just did what I could do’.

“But they still fined me.”

Temple said working to lose money was not in his plans.

“It was getting really frustrating for me because I came into this industry to have the freedom to not work when I needed to.

“I was now losing money. Every time I didn’t work I was fined.”

Indy*, 23, had been a stripper for three years and said fining performers was commonplace at many strip clubs.

“Certainly, girls can be fined a lot. I also got fined for being late or for trying to leave a shift early.”

Indy said the fines depended on the mood of the managers.

“I’ve been sick before and just texted them and everything was fine. It was like they suddenly decided that I would be fined if I didn’t have a medical, out of the blue.

“There is no clear rule, it is so difficult.”

The fines – which could be between $50 and $500 – have been enforced at some New Zealand clubs and could be enforced not only for illness and delay, but Indy told RNZ they could be imposed for many faults.

A 2018 decision of the Authority for Employment Relations Involving a Calendar Girls Adult Club listed items such as:

  • Missing a stage spot
  • Inappropriate attire
  • Poisoning
  • Not showing up for work
  • Leaving a shift
  • “Hanging out” in the locker room for an unacceptable length of time
  • Rudeness to customers and management
  • Club complaints
  • Not be completely naked at the end of their performance
  • Getting dressed while collecting tips
  • Cell phone abuse

Clubs also offered money to performers who notified the club if other dancers were swapping numbers with customers or leaving the club with them, Indy told RNZ.

Showgirls did not respond to multiple interview or comment requests.

Know the law

According to ASBL Community Law, organizations that hire independent contractors are not legally responsible for the faulty behavior or failures of the contractor.

Independent contractors are also not protected by the Employment Relations Authority.

Employment law lawyer Danny Gelb said that since most clubs consider performers to be independent contractors instead of employees, contract rules could be unclear.

“A contractor contract is purely a contractual agreement between two parties and is not considered employment.

“Whatever is agreed between the parties is the basis of this contract and there is no protection for the parties as there is with labor relations law.”

Danny Gelb.

Employment Lawyer Danny Gelb.
Photo: Provided

If performers are hired as employees and you try to fine them, the Employment Relations Authority will come down on the employer like a ton of bricks, Gelb said.

“That’s probably why they [the performers] were hired as sub-contractors so that the clubs did not have the protection of labor relations law to interfere with their business. »

The Aotearoa New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) is a non-profit organization that provides support to sex workers.

Its founder, former sex worker Dame Catherine Healy, said clubs treat dancers like contractors so they can control them financially without having to deal with legislation.

“I think the club feels like they can get away with it and there’s this kind of idea that sex workers or dancers need control and a steady hand is a good hand.

“It’s all that kind of patronizing approach,” Dame Catherine said.

Catherine Healy, co-founder of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective becomes Dame.

Dame Catherine Healy said few rights issues in the sex industry go public.
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Little regulation around certain parts of the industry

Dame Catherine said that although labor rights issues in the sex industry have been around for decades, few cases become public.

In 2018, two artists from Christchurch lost their job battle against the Calendar Girls Gentlemen’s Club.

Hired as contractors, they were fined after failing to show up for work and were subsequently sacked from the club.

In the court case, the performers said they were not shown the club’s rules and fines when they signed the contract.

At the time, the club told the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that it was well-known industry practice for exotic dancers to be treated as independent contractors and that they “n had never heard of an artist as an employee”.

Calendar Girls also said that the fines system is very common, although it comes in different forms and to varying degrees.

The club have told ERA that fines are a deterrent to bad behavior and are only used as an absolute last resort.

He said there was so little regulation around the exotic dancing industry that clubs were forced to create rules and enforce them as best they could and without them the club would not function well. and the dancers would not meet the standards.

The ERA ruled that, in this case, the fines were there to ensure the safety and comfort of the dancers as well as to protect the club’s brand.

“Dancers are to a large extent in competition with each other and, although open competitive behavior is not encouraged, for obvious reasons there are only a limited number of customers and money available between the dancers each evening.

“Therefore, rules controlling how the dancer approaches and interacts with patrons are to be expected,” he said in the lawsuit.

The ERA said that “while these rules all help to protect and promote the club’s brand, they also directly benefit dancers, as a dancer who dances completely naked is more likely to get a generous tip than one who does not. doesn’t, for example,” he continued.

The ERA concluded by saying that while there were clear elements of control exercised over the dancers, these were not inconsistent with an independent contractor relationship given the nature of the industry.

“I find that the candidates do not fall under the employee side of the Binary Division. Therefore, the Authority has no jurisdiction to determine their claims that they were wrongfully terminated,” ERA said.

For Dame Catherine, the case could have taken a different turn if the Collective of Prostitutes had been involved in the process.

“We were deeply disappointed not to have had the opportunity to speak with the court as experts. If we had [NZPC] involved, I think we could have spoken with great authority about the culture and the coercive nature of what was going on.”

For Temple, the passion for performing is what drives her to keep fighting for better conditions and fairness in the sex industry.

“I love to dance, I love to dress up, I love to play.

“It’s a simple solution here. Stop letting managers exploit us! It’s annoying for us and it makes it very difficult for us to want to show up to work and perform. It’s just ridiculous.

“We, as workers, when we talk about it to the general public, we are silenced because they say ‘Oh no! We have to stop the sex industry completely’, but it doesn’t have to be so be it.”

* Some names given are working names of performers.

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