'Governments must reach workers excluded from formal economy during COVID-19 pandemic,' says SWAI

Sex workers in Ireland are already reporting a loss of income resulting in a lack of funds to pay for basic needs following the COVID-19 crisis.

workers COVID-19
Image: Open Society

Kate McGrew current sex worker, director of The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) and co-convenor of the European Network for Sex Workers’ Rights (ICRSE) is calling for the Irish government to urgently act to ensure that sex workers, along with their families and communities, can access social protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, McGrew spoke about the impacts of the lack of legislation for sex workers during the COVID-19 crisis:

“As more countries impose lockdowns, self-isolation and travel restrictions many sex workers will lose most, or all, of their income and face financial hardship, increased vulnerability, destitution or homelessness. The clandestine nature of sex work also means that many will be unable to access the safeguards provided for other workers, such as sick pay.

“Many sex workers come from communities that already face high levels of marginalisation and social exclusion including women living in poverty, migrants and refugees, trans people and drug users. Sex workers who are the primary earners in their families, or who don’t have alternative means of support are at risk of being forced into more precarious and dangerous situations to survive.

Sex workers in Ireland are already reporting a loss of income, closure of workplaces, lack of funds to pay for basic needs, support their family members and dependents.

They also report an inability to access community health services which have shut down or decreased their activities.

There is a sense of increased pressure to take risks while working in order to secure income.

This pandemic is revealing, with extreme urgency, the ways in which sex workers are forced to operate on the margins, in precarious circumstances, without the protections enjoyed by other workers.

SWAI and ICRSE support efforts by governments to control transmissions of the virus. However, public health measures that do not consider the circumstances of the most marginalised groups put their overall success at risk. In providing emergency measures and relief, governments must ensure that they reach workers who are excluded from the formal economy.

SWAI and ICRSE are calling on the government to, as a minimum, provide:

  • Immediate, appropriate and easy-to-access financial support for sex workers in crisis;
  • Emergency housing for homeless sex workers;
  • A firewall between immigration authorities and health services;
  • Access to health care for all sex workers, irrespective of their immigration status.

In a statement SWAI said:

“All measures related to sex work must be based on public health and human rights principles and be developed in consultation with sex workers and their organisations to limit their negative impact. This unprecedented crisis calls for meaningful collaboration between all sectors of society, including those most marginalised. Only by involving sex workers do governments stand a chance to limit the pandemic and eventually end it.

“To mitigate the harm of the pandemic on sex workers we have set up a hardship crowdfund. Sex work is work and sex workers like many precarious workers have been affected by Covid-19.”

“Sex workers are not the problem, we are part of the solution.”

To help sex workers at this difficult time, you can donate to the SWAI hardship fund, which will go directly into the hands of sex workers through individual emergency payments.

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