Onus on strip club owner to clar­ify con­tract, says lawyer

The Southland Times - - Front Page -

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.’’

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