16 Apr 2023

Strippers return to Parliament in protest for work rights

8:42 pm on 16 April 2023
Green MP Jan Logie addresses the crowd outside Parliament.

Green MP Jan Logie addresses the crowd outside Parliament. Photo: RNZ/Giles Dexter

The Fired Up Stilettos group has taken their protest to the front of Parliament, calling on the government to establish stronger rights and protections for strippers, who work as independent contractors.

Nineteen strippers at Calendar Girls in Wellington strippers were told to 'clear out their lockers' earlier this year, after protesting the terms of their new contract, which would have seen the employer take a bigger cut of the strippers' wages.

They took to social media, and ever since, their movement has picked up pace. And now they want the government to step up.

"Our work is seen as unspeakable, unknowable, and untouchable to civil society, and to labour laws," dancer Melody told the crowd.

The group said adult entertainment workers had faced widespread exploitation, as well as a culture of bullying, wage theft, and violations of contract law.

Their petition, which currently has more than 3300 signatures, calls on the government to give adult entertainment workers the right to collectively bargain while maintaining their independent contractor status, outlaw fines and bonds between employers and contractors, and set a mandatory maximum of 20 percent that an employer can take from a contractor's profits.

Lolly, one of the speakers, said the strippers had come together to "kick up a fuss" and had found there was an issue with contractors' rights across Aotearoa.

"Our hope is that if strippers manage to get legislative change that upholds the contractor status, while ensuring venues treat us with dignity and professionalism, and are only able to take a blanket 20 percent maximum, then perhaps other industries suffering from a lack of contract protections would be able to make changes too," she said.

Fired dancer Eve said New Zealand's labour laws have left strippers vulnerable to exploitation, and feeling unsafe.

"Frankly we all kind of get screwed over, but we're a special kind of screwed over owing to the stigma that we have to deal with."

She said strippers were terrified by a lack of accountability.

The Fired Up Stilettos group has taken their protest to the front of Parliament.

The Fired Up Stilettos group has taken their protest to the front of Parliament Photo: RNZ/Giles Dexter

"We've got nobody to turn to. Our managers have taunted us with the fact that WorkSafe isn't willing to do anything about this, that MBIE isn't willing to do anything about this, but we want them do. We desperately want them to, we want to work with them at the table."

At its peak, around 200 people packed around the Seddon statue to listen to speeches and join in with the dancing. A brass band played tunes from Chicago, and in what the group believed was a first, a stripper pole was set up in front of Parliament.

"We come up with crazy ideas, and then we go, 'is that a bit too much?' and then we do it anyway," said Molly, the protest's organiser.

Visiting Californian stripper Velveeta said there were many similarities between New Zealand and the USA in terms of strippers' labour struggles, and had been inspired by what she saw at the protest.

"It's incredible, it's so cool to see. It gives me ideas, we're going to have to start planning our DC tour."

MPs from a number of political parties were invited to attend, but in the end only Jan Logie from the Green Party showed up. Logie has championed the strippers' cause from the start, and said she was frustrated work on laws for contractors had stalled.

"I want to hear the government actually acknowledge that, and the bravery of these workers, and actually commit to fixing this. Because what's happening right now is unacceptable, and right now they've got the power to start the process, and keep these people safe and fairly paid," she said.

Melody dedicated her speech to MPs, and accused some of doing nothing to protect strippers' rights while at the same time, visiting strip clubs.

"Sex workers are keepers of a menagerie of secrets. We value discretion, so we don't name names, but we know just how many members of this Parliament, and other government officials from across the political spectrum, frequent our establishments," she said.

"To know your colleagues are accessing our services, and then to turn around and act as if this has nothing to do with you, is both wildly hypocritical, and deeply irresponsible."

Molly said their movement was not just about fair pay, but about being able to go to work and being protected.

"My biggest concern is how long it's going to take to get any actual tangible change in Parliament. That's my concern, because contractor issues are off the table as far as government is concerned, right now. And we need them back on the table, and working on them, tomorrow."

And the group is promising to keep kicking up a fuss until that work is done.

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