Trade unions have broken one of the great taboos of political debate by discussing sex at the TUC conference.
Delegates debated a call by the train drivers’ union ASLEF to decriminalise sex work, but it was overwhelmingly defeated.
The controversial proposal had earlier been attacked by former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, who declared: “Buying someone for sex is abuse.”
Opening the debate on the final day of the conference in Brighton, ASLEF delegate Simon Weller said austerity had led to an increase in the number of people working in the sex industry.
He said on-street prostitution had increased by 60% since 2010 – mainly attributed to the impact of benefit sanctions.
He said decriminalisation was different to legalisation, but the voices of sex workers were not being heard.
The ASLEF motion, supported by the GMB, claimed decriminalising sex work would improve safety for the thousands of men and women who sell their bodies.
It suggested bringing UK law into line with the so-called “New Zealand model” where prostitutes have full legal protection.
And it called on the TUC “to adopt a policy in favour of full decriminalisation and to campaign alongside appropriate organisations to achieve this”.
At a fringe meeting in Brighton this week sex workers complained the current law infringed their human rights by preventing them from setting up brothels.
But they were shouted down by campaigners who said prostitution demeans women, could increase sexism and violence and any change in law could lead to a “brothel on every corner”.
One opponent of a change in the law argued that the New Zealand model would mean women would be able to set small brothels up without any registration.
After the fringe meeting, Ms Harman said on Twitter: “Noooooo! So wrong #tuc protect the vulnerable & exploited! Don’t legitimise their exploitation.
“Buying someone for sex is abuse. Should be a crime.”
In the conference debate, Sue Ferns of the TUC executive said decriminalising sex work would also cover pimps, brothel owners and those involved in exploiting women and girls.
“How can exchanging money for sex be compared to other jobs?” she said.
“What other jobs involve sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies and rape as common workplace hazards?”
Julie Phipps of Unite said: “The sale of your body is not the same as selling your labour.”
(c) Sky News 2017: Trade unions reject call to decriminalise sex work