Hackney TUC condemns council’s proposed ‘nil’ policy on sex establishments

“This was T’s Massage on Great Eastern Street, it used to be pink now it looks like dirty skin. Sex clubs aren’t perfect but they are a lot safer than working in the street,” says Hackney artist Stik. Photo: Claude Crommelin

Hackney Trades Union Council (TUC) passed a unanimous motion this Wednesday to take a public position against Hackney Council’s proposed ‘nil’ policy towards sex establishment licensing.

The union also resolved to support the application of model rules for venues set out by the GMB sex workers branch. The motion was proposed by John Page of the GMB union and amended by the performers union Equity.

Prior to the vote, a panel of guest speakers gave their views on the subject before the topic was put to the floor. Dr Kate Hardy from Leeds University has interviewed 200 dancers for a study on regulation within the lap-dancing industry.

Her research showed that many dancers had actively left a job to pursue a career in dancing, citing a high level of job satisfaction and flexible hours as benefits. High commission rates, a paucity of changing facilities and lack of information about unions and insurance were problems highlighted.

Hackney clubs in particular were singled out by the study as the type of well-run and regulated venues that dancers seek to work in. Suzanna Slack, an ex-dancer from the GMB , praised Hackney’s venues, describing them as “national treasures”. She said: “Men and women in these clubs are less likely to be extremely drunk because security is so tight.  Unlike at corporate lap dancing clubs, they are renowned for respecting the dancers. I suggest paying these clubs a visit, the bar staff are women and they are women run.”

An officer from Hackney Council’s buildings and licensing committee gave a position statement and confirmed that postcodes would be taken into account when collating responses. He said: “This policy does not aim to take away business.”

A statement was read out from Reverend Paul Turp  of St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch High Street, in which he expressed concern that  a nil policy would “bring back the bad old days’” of “seedy” unlicensed venues.

Cllr Angus Mulready-Jones told the meeting that there are wide ranging views within the council. He said: “I would like a system to protect workers, not the people who blush when they see what goes on in that industry.  I do not feel we should be over critical just because it is near at school or church. Making a policy on that basis concerns me.”

Edie, a dancer who worked in Browns, one of the venues concerned, for eight years, said: “It was an incredible place to work.”

Commenting on the wider issues she said: “There is no link between Hackney clubs and sex trafficking.”

Cllr Carole Williams said: “I would be minded to vote against it [the proposed policy]. My concern would be what would happen to the dancers if venues were unregulated.

She added: “There is a middle way to protect dancers and workers.”

Also present was the manager and owner of the Rainbow Sports Bar, Robert Kiss. He said: “It seems a bit unfair to me. I have worked in the place for 40 years to get where I am. The council said it was a good place last year, but not this year. Nothing has changed, if anything it has got better.”

The consultation continues until 13 December will be considered by full council on January 26 next year.

An alliance of affected parties are set to protest outside Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, on Friday 10 December at 10.30am.

More infoirmation about Dr Hardy’s study, Research Project: The Regulatory Dance.

Related stories:

Hands Off: women speak out over Hackney strip clubs

Strippers and vicar unite to fight cleanup campaign

Sex establishments: the other side

Sex club clampdown could backfire

Let’s talk about sex, says Hackney Council