FIFO sex workers keep STI rates down: inquiry

They’re labelled ‘vectors of disease’ and have a stigma that is almost impossible to shake.

But fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) sex workers say they are “part of the solution, not part of the problem” for many of the issues faced by remote mining communities, where soaring rates of STIs and a high incidence of mental illness have recently made headlines.

Janelle Fawkes, CEO of the Scarlet Alliance, and Zahra Stardust, the group’s policy advisor, spoke eloquently for the rights of their industry at a recent federal parliamentary inquiry hearing into the impact of FIFO work practices.

“Sex workers … have positive effects on local communities, where we bring safer sex education and skills,” Ms Fawkes told the House of Representatives’ standing committee on regional Australia last month.

“There is no causal link between HIV and STIs, and sex workers ... Sex workers have consistently low rates of STIs and HIV, which remain lower than those in the general population,” she told the hearing in Sydney.

At the inquiry’s WA leg, AMA WA president, Dave Mountain, said STI rates among FIFO workers were at “epidemic proportions”.

Media reports have suggested Perth Airport’s charter terminals have become the new “stalking ground for prostitutes”, with prostitutes soliciting the workers as they step off their flights.

But Ms Fawkes called for an end to the “blame game”. “I think the concept of large numbers of sex workers being flown in is completely inaccurate,” Ms Fawkes told Australian Doctor.

There are about 20,000 sex workers in Australia, but it is unknown how many have joined the FIFO workforce boom.

Ms Fawkes is reluctant to put a figure on how much FIFO sex workers earn, but a case before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal noted that a FIFO sex worker could earn up to $2000 a day from eight clients.

Ms Fawkes said most of the sex workers who fly into mining areas are independent workers, organising their own travel and accommodation.

She said FIFO sex workers face some of the same issues that other FIFO workers’ experience, such as family separation. On top of this, sex workers are subject to “ongoing discrimination”.

Ms Fawkes cited several examples where sex workers had been banned from hotels or were unable to advertise in local newspapers in Queensland, despite engaging in “lawful sexual activity”.

Ms Stardust told the hearing: “Reports from Townsville are that sex workers have to sign statements that they won’t be offering goods and services from their room or that people are not allowed to run businesses from their room.”

They recommended the introduction of antidiscrimination protection for sex workers.