Dancer takes aim at strip club

The Press - - Front Page - Oliver Lewis oliver.lewis@stuff.co.nz

A for­mer ex­otic dancer plans to take ac­tion against Christchurch strip club Cal­en­dar Girls in a case that has ex­posed the in­ner work­ings of the busi­ness.

Jessica Clif­ford, 22, al­leges she was un­fairly sacked – which she learned from a Face­book mes­sage – and that she was un­der­paid for dances and her share of tips. Cal­en­dar Girls has ‘‘strongly’’ de­nied her al­le­ga­tions.

Clif­ford said she was mo­ti­vated to take the case to ex­pose what she de­scribed as ex­ploita­tive prac­tices at the club and to ad­vo­cate for other dancers.

Doc­u­ments seen by The Press show dancers must fol­low a strict set of rules con­trol­ling ev­ery­thing from when they re­move cloth­ing dur­ing a dance to how they in­ter­act with pa­trons and man­age­ment.

Breaches are pe­nalised with fines, rang­ing from $50 for miss­ing a spot on stage to

$2500 for danc­ing for a com­peti­tor or meet­ing a client out­side of work. Dancers who re­port on other women for the lat­ter two breaches are paid

$500.

‘‘It scared a lot of the girls, be­cause that was their only

in­come,’’ Clif­ford said of the fines sys­tem. ‘‘To have that threat­ened for every move­ment you made, for us it was like ‘OK, we’ll do ev­ery­thing right and make sure we don’t step on your toes’.

‘‘For me, strip­ping was all I had. That’s how it is for a lot of the girls there. I’m not do­ing this just on my be­half; I’m fight­ing for the girls there, too.’’

Clif­ford is seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion from Cal­en­dar Girls for al­leged un­jus­ti­fied dis­missal, hurt and hu­mil­i­a­tion and lost wages af­ter she was fired, pur­port­edly for miss­ing work, last Septem­ber. She claims she

had a med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate and in­formed the club she would not come in.

Her em­ploy­ment ad­vo­cate has filed a state­ment of prob­lem with the Em­ploy­ment Re­la­tions Au­thor­ity (ERA) to de­ter­mine the first is­sue: whether Clif­ford was, as she says, an em­ployee, or a con­trac­tor, as Cal­en­dar Girls main­tains.

Cal­en­dar Girls man­age­ment de­clined to com­ment while the case was be­fore the ERA. The club’s lawyer said in a let­ter a num­ber of Clif­ford’s al­le­ga­tions were ‘‘strongly de­nied and wildly out of con­text’’.

Clif­ford started work­ing at the Vic­to­ria St club about March last year af­ter mes­sag­ing the club ‘‘boss’’ on Face­book.

She claims she was not asked to sign any em­ploy­ment or con­trac­tor agree­ment af­ter she started work and al­leged she was un­aware of any other dancers be­ing asked to do so. ‘‘There was no pa­per­work in­volved.’’

She said she was sim­ply in­vited in, shown around and had the pole danc­ing rou­tine ex­plained: a dancer re­moves her top on the first pole dur­ing one song and the ‘‘bot­toms’’ come off on a sec­ond pole dur­ing the sec­ond song, she said.

Clif­ford was asked to choose her strip­per name. She chose Misty.

About two months into the job, Clif­ford said she at­tended a meet­ing where a doc­u­ment out­lin­ing a set of rules and fines was handed out. How­ever, she was adamant it was not a con­tract as it did not re­quire a sig­na­ture.

‘‘It was just ‘here are the rules, stick to them, oth­er­wise you’ll be fired’,’’ she said.

The Press has viewed a copy of a doc­u­ment Clif­ford said was the handout ti­tled ‘‘points for the meet­ing’’. It in­cluded $50 fines for missed stage spots and be­ing late. Dancers with an ‘‘at­ti­tude’’ would be sent home ‘‘no ques­tions asked’’ and ‘‘if you get­ting s… about it I will fine you aswell (sic)’’.

Bul­ly­ing, the doc­u­ment said, needed to stop. If a now for­mer man­ager saw in­stances of bul­ly­ing they would ‘‘either out­ra­geously fine some stupid amount or stand u down for two weeks at the least (sic)’’.

It cov­ered hours of work. Fri­days and Satur­days were com­pul­sory un­less dancers did a five­day week. Clif­ford said dancers rou­tinely worked 11-hour shifts, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the stage, min­gling with cus­tomers and do­ing lap dances in the pri­vate rooms up­stairs, which were re­ferred to as ‘‘pent­houses’’.

The doc­u­ment re­minded dancers not to use cham­pagne as a sell­ing tool and said that man­age­ment would check the rooms more fre­quently for ‘‘in­tox (sic)’’ and to make sure ‘‘ev­ery­thing’s okay’’.

Clif­ford claimed the fines were a form of con­trol and de­ducted with­out prior dis­cus­sion.

Dancers were told they had been fined only if they no­ticed a short­fall in their pay and asked why, she said.

An­other doc­u­ment con­tain­ing a more ex­haus­tive list of fines was this year sup­plied to Clif­ford’s em­ploy­ment ad­vo­cate by the club in re­sponse to a re­quest for a con­tract.

It set out a $100 fine for late­ness, $75 fine for in­tox­i­ca­tion, $250 fine for not show­ing up for work, a $200 fine and a 50 per cent tax on tips for ‘‘rude­ness to pa­trons or man­age­ment’’, a $100 fine for wear­ing a G-string – ‘‘All dancers must be com­pletely naked for whole of sec­ond song and en­tire du­ra­tion of tip round’’ – and a $50 fine for ‘‘hang­ing around in chang­ing rooms for [an] un­ac­cept­able amount of time’’, among oth­ers.

New Zealand em­ploy­ment law al­lows em­ploy­ers to make de­duc­tions from an em­ployee’s pay for rea­son­able, law­ful pur­poses, but only if an em­ployee has agreed to the de­duc­tion in writ­ing. This can be un­der a gen­eral de­duc­tion clause, but for each in­stance an em­ployer must seek con­sent. This does not ap­ply to con­trac­tors.

Clif­ford said she had not seen the doc­u­ment, ti­tled ‘‘Cal­en­dar Girls dancer profit share ar­range­ment poli­cies and pro­ce­dure’’, be­fore and said some, but not all, of the fines were in place when she worked at the club.

The doc­u­ment stated it was not an em­ploy­ment agree­ment and that dancers were in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors re­quired to pay their own tax. It also threat­ened le­gal ac­tion should dancers divulge the work­ings of the club to the pub­lic or me­dia.

Clif­ford said when she started at Cal­en­dar Girls she trusted man­age­ment com­pletely.

She en­joyed strip­ping and said some­times she could make good money, cit­ing one in­stance when she earned $1500 in a night. How­ever, on other nights dancers could earn noth­ing, she claimed. ‘‘It was a roller­coaster.’’ Clif­ford said dancers did not re­ceive an hourly rate, rather they re­ceived tips from cus­tomers us­ing cash or Cal­en­dar Girls notes, which were ex­changed at the bar at the end of each shift, with the club tak­ing a cut.

Dancers’ main form of in­come was from pri­vate dances. Tax in­voices pro­vided by Clif­ford showed cus­tomers paid $100 for a 15-minute lap dance (classed as ‘‘touch­ing stan­dard booth’’), $375 for a 30-minute pent­house strip and $650 for an hour-long pent­house strip.

Clif­ford al­leged she was of­ten un­der­paid. Her state­ment of prob­lem stated she was paid by re­ceiv­ing points that Cal­en­dar Girls re­funded for cash. It said the num­ber of points was de­ter­mined by Cal­en­dar Girls and did not re­flect a dol­lar for point ex­change, with no ac­count­ing for the de­duc­tions from the fee charged to the client. ‘‘None of us girls are stupid there, but we trusted them,’’ Clif­ford said.

She also al­leged she and an­other dancer, her friend and flat­mate, were sub­ject to bul­ly­ing.

Dancers are ro­tated on the main stage through­out the night. Clif­ford said she and the other dancer were told to do more than their fair share. ‘‘They would just run us dry,’’ she said.

Clif­ford claimed she found out she was fired from the com­pany over Face­book af­ter mes­sag­ing to ask why she had not been paid. She said, as some­one who pre­vi­ously suf­fered from de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, the sit­u­a­tion af­fected her badly.

She is now study­ing to be a teacher. An ad­vo­cate for strip­pers’ rights, she said she wanted to en­sure other dancers were pro­tected.

PHOTO: JOSEPH JOHN­SON/STUFF, MAIN PIC­TURE: STOCK IM­AGE

For­mer Cal­en­dar Girls dancer Jessica Clif­ford claims she was un­jus­ti­fi­ably dis­missed from the strip club, and was sub­ject to ex­ploita­tive work prac­tices.

JOSEPH JOHN­SON/STUFF

For­mer Cal­en­dar Girls dancer Jessica Clif­ford claims she was un­jus­ti­fi­ably dis­missed from the strip club, and was sub­ject to ex­ploita­tive work prac­tices.

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