Onus on strip club owner to clarify contract, says lawyer
The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective says it is ‘‘high time’’ mistreatment of dancers in strip clubs was brought to official attention.
It was revealed this week that Jessica Clifford, 22, was planning to sue Christchurch strip club Calendar Girls. She said she was unfairly sacked and underpaid for dances.
Calendar Girls denied the allegations.
A document provided to Clifford’s employment advocate in response to a contract contained an exhaustive list of fines, including $50 for missing a spot on stage to $2500 for dancing for a competitor.
There were also strict rules involving when dancers would remove clothing and guidelines for interacting with patrons and management.
‘‘[The fines system] scared a lot of the girls, because that was their only income,’’ Clifford said.
Catherine Healey, national coordinator for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, said the sex industry’s conditions were policed in the same way as any other industry. Any investigation needed to be driven by complaints, she said.
But she said there were issues of stigma that made workers less likely to complain.
She said it was usually easy for strippers to move to other jobs and the time it took for a complaint to be heard was a disincentive.
Most strip club workers were comparatively young and could lack the confidence to assert their rights.
Susan Hornsby-Geluk, of Dundas Street Employment Lawyers, said the key ambiguity was whether the women were employees or contractors. The Employment Relations Authority will investigate this.
If they were contractors there were very few legal protections for them, she said.
‘‘There is no minimum rate of pay or leave entitlement. There is no law around pay deductions.’’
But she said the onus was on the company to make it clear from the start that it was a contracting relationship, which was set out clearly in documentation and consistent with the way the workers were treated.
‘‘There’s a significant risk that the club takes that a court would find them to be employees.’’
Aspects of the arrangement such as set hours of work and strict controls on them were more in line with an employee arrangement, she said.
Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden said his team would be watching the results of Clifford’s application to the Employment Relations Authority.
He said things that determined whether someone was a contractor included how much control they had to decide their work, how fundamental the work was to the business, whether the worker paid their own taxes and ACC levies, and the intention of the relationship.
‘‘Should it be demonstrated that she is an employee and not a contractor, we will be following this up with the employer to ensure all their employees receive their minimum entitlements.’’