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Regulating the industry

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Your safety at work

One of the best ways to protect your safety at work is to know your rights and be in control. You have the right to:

  • set your boundaries before you are alone with a client
  • feel safe at work, both personally and sexually
  • say “No” and stop a service that is uncomfortable or not what you agreed to
  • leave a booking if a client is drunk, abusive or violent
  • report crimes against you to the police and expect a response.

Others—including co-workers, receptionists or managers—should help you stay safe. If other people are involved in controlling the workplace or describing the services you provide, they also need to know your rules and boundaries, and should stick to them. This will help avoid safety problems during the service. Everyone should know and respect the safety systems at work.

ex work was decriminalised in 1995. This means that the sex industry can operate legally, and workers, clients and owners of sex services premises have rights and responsibilities just like any other business.

Government departments and local councils both regulate the sex industry and must help people in the industry comply with the rules and regulations. They can enforce laws even if the premises do not have local council planning permission to operate.

Sex workers, business owners and support staff have rights and responsibilities when dealing with these regulatory authorities. If you work in the sex industry you need to understand your rights and obligations—do not assume that because this is an ‘unusual’ industry the businesses and people working in them do not have to comply with the rules.

Who is involved in regulating the sex industry in NSW?

Because sex work is no longer a crime, the police do not regulate the industry as much. But as with any other business, sex services premises and workers must comply with laws concerning:

  • tax
  • industrial relations
  • occupational health and safety
  • workers compensation
  • criminal law
  • liquor licensing
  • anti-discrimination and
  • public health.

For owners and managers, if your business does not comply with these laws, you may face fines or legal action from government departments. Individual sex workers may face fines or legal action if they are found guilty of breaking criminal or other laws.

This is a list of some of the government departments and local authorities that regulate the sex industry, and some of the areas they are responsible for.

Local Councils

Responsible for:

  • developing, administering and compliance checking of planning policies for local sex services premises
  • accepting, advertising and deciding on development applications from sex services premises
  • administering food safety and environmental health policies.

WorkCover NSW

Responsible for:

  • the health and safety of sex industry workers, support staff and clients
  • workers compensation (insurance) and injury management.

NSW Health

Responsible for:

  • safe health practices, pools and spas in the workplace
  • complaints regarding unsafe sex practices and public health
  • taking action, if needed, under the Public Health Act. (Click here for more information about the Public Health Act).

Office of Industrial Relations and Unions

Responsible for:

  • enforcing minimum conditions of employment as set out in awards and laws
  • unfair dismissal, unpaid wages and fines, unreturned workers bonds
  • video surveillance and ensuring privacy in the workplace.

Australian Taxation Office

Responsible for:

  • collection and payment of GST, personal, payroll and company tax and associated documentation and compliance action.

NSW Police Force

Responsible for:

  • the areas street-based sex workers may solicit and work
  • prosecuting employers of underage sex workers
  • prosecuting crimes that may occur in a sex work setting (such as assault)
  • assisting other regulators in conducting compliance visits.

Australian Federal Police

Responsible for:

  • enforcing anti-trafficking laws
  • helping the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink with investigations.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Responsible for:

  • visas and giving permission to non-Australians to work.

Anti-Discrimination Board

Responsible for preventing:

  • discrimination against workers because of their sex (including pregnancy), race, marital status, HIV status, age, sexuality, transgender status and intellectual and physical disability
  • sexual, racial or homosexual vilification (mocking or name calling).


Responsible for:

  • delivering services and payments under the social welfare system—including pensions, unemployment, sickness benefits and support relating to dependents
  • investigating fraud or breach of conditions associated with social welfare payments and entitlements.

These departments have specific, limited powers to investigate. Each department may respond differently to information received about a business, workplace, operator or worker. On some issues, the local council, the NSW Health, and WorkCover staff may share responsibility for investigation. On other issues, the Federal Police, Immigration and Centrelink may be involved. In some cases, NSW Police will be brought along to help other authorities during a compliance visit.

What your rights are with government departments or authorities

Everyone involved in the sex industry has legal rights when dealing with government departments and authorities—although these rights vary with each department. You have the right to:

  • ask department officers to show their identification and any warrant to make sure the person is a genuine officer and has the necessary authority, and
  • refuse government staff entry to your workplace if they do not have authority.

If you are not sure of your rights when a department representative visits you, ask them to explain the purpose of their visit and how you may be expected to help. You can ask to speak to the person’s supervisor by phone to confirm their authority. You might also be able to request that the person visit on another day and time, arranged by agreement.

If the business owner is not present, contact and tell them that a department officer wants to enter the premises. Even if the owner allows a government department to enter, sex workers and other staff do not necessarily have to provide information—they may have individual rights and responsibilities in relation to that particular department.

If the government officer wishes to speak to individual sex workers and they have the powers to do so, then those sex workers may choose where and with whom they speak. For example, a sex worker who agrees to speak with Taxation or Immigration officers must:

  • be able to speak to the officers in private
  • have two government officers present and 
  • be able to dress appropriately prior to the interview. 

False complaints and the importance of checking identification

Some complaints about the sex industry may come from competitors or from disgruntled clients or workers. So it is especially important that staff of all government departments and authorities produce proper identification and authority for their visit, and that you ask to see those documents.

People who pretend to be department or authority staff are committing a crime, and you should report it. 

Corruption is illegal

Corrupt activity, intimidation or extortion by government representatives is illegal and is inappropriate within a legalised and professional sex industry. It is a crime for staff to behave corruptly and to attempt to make personal gain from their role, whether during or after their working hours. You need to report any inappropriate behaviour by a government representative to the relevant department. It is also illegal for sex industry workers to behave corruptly. 

This document is presented for the purposes of providing information, and is not a substitute for independent professional legal advice. Nothing contained  in this document is intended as a substitute for your own legal professional’s advice. SWOP and the Law and Justice Foundation (NSW) do not accept any liability for any illness, loss or damage incurred by use of, or reliance upon, the information in this article. Persons using this article should carefully evaluate its accuracy, currency, completeness and relevance for their purposes, and should obtain any  appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances. SWOP and the Law and Justice Foundation (NSW) cannot guarante and assumes no legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currency or completeness of the information