B.C. union MoveUP declares its support for decriminalizing sex work

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      For years, sex workers have struggled to achieve the same rights as other workers.

      They and their allies have held annual marches under red umbrellas, which is the symbol of sex workers' safety.

      They've also held memorials every December 17, which is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

      But until now, their efforts have largely been ignored by the labour movement.

      Today, that changed when MoveUP, which has over 12,000 B.C. members, declared that it formally supports the decriminalization of sex work.

      "The basic human rights of health and protections are not readily available to these workers. This is based in part on the stigma that sex workers face,” MoveUP vice president of utilities and health and safety committee chair Rysa Kronebusch said in a news release. “This stigma will be there for some time, but we feel supporting the decriminalization of sex work is a positive step forward to the eventual eradication of this stigma.

      “It is important for organizations such as ours to step up, recognize the dangers that exist for these workers, and the need to have protections available for them to have equal access to justice, health care, and a safe working environment. Sex work is work, and what we want for ourselves we fight for all.”

      MoveUP's vice president of utilities, Rysa Kronebusch, played a key role in her union advancing decriminalization for sex work.

      The union news release cited the work of Amnesty International, which proposed a new policy on sex work in 2015.

      The international human rights group's proposal was endorsed by the Lancet, one of the world's most respected peer-reviewed medical journals.

      "Such a move would also reduce mistreatment of sex workers and increase their access to human rights," the Lancet stated.

      The Lancet, like many local sex workers and their advocates, stated that criminalization increases the likelihood of HIV transmission and heightens abuse and violence against sex workers.

      The medical journal acknowledged that it's common to conflate sex work with human trafficking.

      The journal argued, however, that criminalizing sex work does not reduce trafficking.

      MoveUp president David Black says sex workers should have the right to safety and protection under the law.

      Here in B.C., MoveUP plans to work with groups, including WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, on actions to advance the decriminalization agenda.

      "As a feminist and a union member, I know this is an important step forward in the relationship between sex workers and the labour movement,” WAVAW inclusion coordinator Felix Gilliland said. "In order for union activists to advocate for all workers’ safety, we must insist upon the decriminalization of sex work and make it a priority in our organizing. I am proud to be part of MoveUP as we take this groundbreaking step and I think sex worker communities for working in solidarity with us.”

      MoveUP president David Black also expressed pride in his union for taking this position.

      "This is about human rights of workers to safety and protection under the law," he stated.

      At last summer's Red Umbrella march in Vancouver, the president of the Triple-X Solidarity Association of B.C., Andrew Sorfleet, told the Straight that he couldn't collect dues from members because that's illegal under the federal Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

      This law was passed by the former Conservative government. It came after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three laws in 2013 governing the sex trade—the ban on communicating in public for the purposes of exchanging sex, keeping a common bawdy house, and living off the avails.

      The Harper government responded to this ruling by criminalizing the sale of sex. It included several other measures in its law that, according to sex workers, made the trade even more dangerous.

      The justice minister at the time was Peter MacKay, who's currently considering running for the Conservative party leadership.

      Former chief justice Beverley McLachlin's historic 2013 ruling emphasized how the ban on keeping a common bawdy house made it easier for predators, including Robert William Pickton, to prey on vulnerable women.

      Pickton was convicted in 2007 of killing six sex workers. Another 20 charges of murder were stayed.

      In prison, Pickton bragged about killing 49 sex workers.