Strippers pay thousands of fines, bonds to perform: ‘I was losing money now’

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Photo: Included / Gabbrielle Bisset by Ellbis Intimates

Sex workers say they have to “pay to work” as strip clubs across New Zealand demand bonds and withhold fines from their wages.

Involved with strip clubs as contractors rather than employees, the performers say they’re missing out on protections from the law.

Through contracts, sometimes handwritten, clubs took on $1,000 bonds and fined dancers hundreds for things like sick leave or late work.

Twenty-six-year-old Vixen Temple* has been in the sex industry for four years.

She claimed that most of the strip clubs she worked for did not follow the rules.

“The contract is so evasive, but you can’t work until you sign it, and you’re often rushed to sign them.

“You know, you just have to make money,” she said.

In 2019, Temple said she was asked to pay a $1100 bail to start working at the Showgirls strip club in Auckland.

In her contract, the “administration advance” was justified by the club, as the artist used the club facilities as a contractor.

The agreement also stated that the club could increase the deposit to an additional $1000 in the event of high turnover, holidays and for national or sporting events.

Temple said the exploitation of dancers is associated with the stigma surrounding the industry.

“You don’t hear that happen with other independent contractors, but because these managers know that the general public doesn’t care about the safety of the sex workers, they know we know we don’t have anyone to fall back on.”

Temple said she was paid daily in cash, coming from tips and private dances, and the security deposit wasn’t the only allowance deducted from her wages.

After a post-traumatic stress incident, Temple said she had called in sick to work, which she is legally entitled to.

But the club thought otherwise, she said.

“They emailed me later in the week saying they would fine me $200 or $250 for not showing up on duty and I said, ‘But I gave you a doctor’s note, I gave you a notice of one hours given, I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more, I just did what I could’.

“But they still fined me.”

Temple said that working to lose money was not in her plans.

“That really started to frustrate me because I entered this industry to have the freedom not to work when I needed to.

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“I lost money now. Every time I didn’t work, I was fined.”

23-year-old Indy* had been a stripper for three years and said that fining artists is common in many strip clubs.

“Certainly, girls can be fined a lot. I was also fined for being late or trying to leave a service earlier.”

Indy said the fines depended on the executives’ mood.

“I’ve been sick before and just texted them and it was all right. It was as if they suddenly decided that I would be fined if I didn’t have a medical certificate, out of the blue.

“There is no clear rule, it is so difficult.”

The fines – which can range from $50 to $500 – were imposed in some New Zealand clubs and could not only be applied for illness and lateness, but Indy told RNZ they could be imposed for many fouls.

A 2018 ruling from the Employment Relations Authority regarding the Calendar Girls adult club listed items such as:

  • I miss a podium place
  • inappropriate dress
  • intoxication
  • Not showing up for work
  • Walking out with a shift
  • “Hanging out” in locker rooms for an unacceptable amount of time
  • Rude to customers and management?
  • Club complaints
  • Not being completely naked at the end of their performances
  • Dress up while collecting tips
  • Mobile phone abuse

Clubs also offered money to performers who informed the club if other dancers swapped numbers with customers or left the club with them, Indy claimed to RNZ.

Showgirls did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comment.

Know the law

According to the nonprofit Community Law, organizations that hire independent contractors were not legally responsible for the contractor’s wrongful conduct or failure.

Self-employed contractors are also not protected by the Employment Relations Authority.

Employment lawyer Danny Gelb said contract rules can be blurry because most clubs view performers as independent contractors rather than employees.

“A contractor agreement is purely a contractual agreement between two parties and is not considered an employment relationship.

“Everything agreed between the parties is the basis of that contract and there is no protection for the parties as there is in the Labor Relations Act.”

If the artists are involved as employees and you try to fine them, the Employment Relations Service would come down like a brick on the employer, Gelb said.

“That’s probably why they [the performers] have been engaged as contractors so that the clubs do not have the protection of the Industrial Relations Act to hinder their business.”

The Aotearoa New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) is a non-profit organization that supports sex workers.

Its founder, former sex worker Dame Catherine Healy, said clubs treat dancers as contractors so they can control them financially without having to deal with legislation.

“I think the club feels like they can get away with it and there’s this kind of idea that sex workers or dancers need control and a firm hand is a good hand.

“That’s all that kind of condescending approach,” said Dame Catherine.

Catherine Healy, co-founder of The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective becomes a Lady.

Dame Catherine Healy said few rights issues in the sex industry become public.
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Little regulation around parts of the industry

Dame Catherine said that although labor rights issues in the sex industry have been going on for decades, not many cases are becoming public.

In 2018, two artists from Christchurch lost their battle on the job market against the men’s club Calendar Girls.

Engaged as contractors, they were fined after not showing up for work and later fired from the club.

In the lawsuit, the performers said they were not shown the club’s rules and fines when they signed the contract.

At the time, the club told the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that it is a well-known industry practice for exotic dancers to be treated as independent contractors and that they have “never heard of a performer being an employee”.

Calendar Girls also stated that the fine system is very common, although they come in different forms and to varying degrees.

The club told ERA that the fines are a deterrent to bad behavior and should only be used as an absolute last resort.

It said there was so little regulation around the exotic dance industry that clubs were forced to create rules and enforce them as best they could, and without them the club wouldn’t run well and the dancers wouldn’t keep up with the standards.

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ERA ruled that the fines were there to ensure the safety and comfort of the dancers and to protect the club’s brand.

“The dancers compete with each other to a great extent and while open competition is not encouraged for obvious reasons, there are only so many customers and so much money available to move around between the dancers on any given night.

“Therefore, rules are to be expected that govern how the dancer approaches and interacts with customers,” it stated in the lawsuit.

ERA said: “While these rules all help protect and promote the club’s brand, they also directly benefit the dancers, as a dancer who dances completely naked is more likely to receive a generous tip than one who does not.” , for example,” it continued.

ERA concluded that while there were some clear elements of control over the dancers, they did not conflict with an independent contractor relationship, taking into account the nature of the industry.

“The applicants do not fall, I believe, on the employee side of the binary division. Therefore, the Authority does not have jurisdiction to determine their claims that they have been wrongly rejected,” ERA said.

For Dame Catherine, things could have taken a different turn if the Prostitute Collective had been involved.

“We were deeply disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to speak to the court as experts. Did we? [NZPC] had been involved, I think we would have been able to talk with great authority of the culture and the compelling nature of what was happening.”

For Temple, her passion for stage performance is what drives her to continue to fight for better conditions and equality in the sex industry.

“I like to dance, I like to dress up, I like to perform.

“It’s a simple solution here. Don’t let the managers exploit us! It’s annoying for us and it makes it very difficult for us to want to show up at work and perform. It’s just ridiculous.

“We the workers, when we talk about it to the general public, we get silenced because they say, ‘Oh no! We need to shut down the sex industry completely,’ but it doesn’t have to be.”

* Some names are working names of artists.

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