COVID-19: Sex work industry faces unique challenges

Sex workers excluded from income support conversations, adapt to new health and safety guidelines

COVID-19: Sex work industry faces unique challenges

In the last few weeks, the effects of COVID-19 have rippled across an increasing number of industries; there have been massive layoffs amongst airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. Frontline workers in supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals, etc. face more and more health and safety risks in their workplace despite low wages and few benefits. But there is an industry which has remained on the fringes of the current conversation.

Indeed, though sex work is decriminalized in Canada, sex workers may not be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI). This is due to various reasons, amongst which is that many sex workers are considered as independent contractors. As such, they may not be eligible for income support or health benefits. This is a problem currently faced by many independent contractors, such as Uber drivers. Various non-profits throughout the country have launched fundraisers in an attempt to support sex workers through these difficult times.

Outside of financial considerations, the industry is having to adapt its practices to guarantee the health and safety of both sex workers and customers. Non-profits Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network have collaborated to release a series of guidelines entitled “Sex Work COVID-19: Guidelines for Sex Workers, Clients, Third Parties, and Allies”. The document is available online via the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

The document states that it follows a harm reduction approach, though it recommends that in-person sex work should be a last resort, with workers preferring alternative digital arrangements if possible.