In a “normal job”, you wouldn’t think twice about joining a union to help negotiate pay deals, protect your rights as a worker and ensure safety in the workplace.

That wasn’t an option for Glasgow-based sex worker Megara Furie, which is what prompted her to seek union backing to start setting up her own branch.

The first of its kind in Scotland, GMB’s new adult entertainment branch will be represented by workers across the country, including transgender and BME officers. 

“Where would you go if you were in a ‘normal job’ and someone was making your job unsafe? “ Ms Furie said.

“You’d go to a union. You’d join a union and they’d stick up for you.”
The 35-year-old has said she hopes the branch will kickstart a change in Holyrood’s prostitution laws.

While it is not illegal to sell sex in Scotland, nor is it illegal to work in the general erotic industry, there are strict laws against “soliciting”, or street prostitution, and “brothel keeping”.

In 2017 the Scottish National Party backed plans to amend broader prostitution laws in Scotland to replicate Scandinavian law, which criminalises individuals who pay for sex but not the workers who sell it.

The SNP’s proposed “Scottish model” aims to decriminalise the sale of sex, ban the purchase of sex and offer support to those wishing to exit commercial sexual exploitation.

But Scotland’s new sex workers’ union have argued that this policy fails to account for many workers in the erotic industry who have no desire to leave their trade. 

Ms Furie said: “Sex work covers everything from stripping to burlesque, go-go dancers, cam workers, people who make porn – any sort of sexual labour or erotic service is under sex work.

“There are laws in place that are making everyone’s work unsafe and there are proposals to bring in new laws that could make it even less safe.

“It doesn’t make the work go away. Even if you criminalise clients, it’s not going to end demand. Basically, all it does is remove any safe-guards that we’ve got.”

Under Scots Law, an indoor sex business becomes an illegal brothel when there is more than one sex worker operating, meaning that sex workers in this country have to work alone.

Although the industry itself is not criminalised in Scotland, the legal stipulation that all work must be carried out in isolation has a direct impact on the safety of workers, something GMB’s new branch hopes to challenge at Holyrood.

Ms Furie argues that safe-guards like call screening mobile apps as well as any practical support workers might receive from Scottish based peer-led organisation ‘Umbrella Lane,’ have quickly become vital components of modern sex work.

These tools, she says, ought to be additional safety measures and not, as she suggests they have become, a sole means of ensuring sex workers are protected in Scotland.

“Our main aims are to secure workers’ safety and workers’ rights. We’re also hoping to have something to do with sex work included in discrimination laws,” Ms Furie explained.

“We want people to be safe, we want to end discrimination and we want to have the same rights as every other self-employed person.

“We’re trying to take the sex out of sex workers because we just want to be seen as workers.”

She added: “We make up approximately 80,000 workers in the UK who are unrepresented, and they should be represented.”

Ms Furie is hopeful that by giving workers’ a voice, the new union will be able to overturn the SNP’s “Nordic model” leanings.

Ms Furie credits her own experience in Ireland, where legislation on the sale of sex changes when you cross the border between North and South, as what ‘kicked off’ a lot of her personal activism.

Where Ireland currently operates under a similar policy to Scotland, Northern Ireland adopts a “Nordic model” approach, criminalising all ‘clients’ engaging in and paying for sexual services.

“Clients being fearful of being arrested made the usual safety checks almost impossible to carry out which seriously affected the safety of my work,” she said.

“This is something we want to avoid happening across the board in Scotland.

“This union is about giving workers their autonomy to be able to run their business however they see fit, so long as it’s safe.”

Rhea Wolfson, GMB organiser for Glasgow city, has been vocal in her support work of Ms Furie and her new branch’s ambitions to challenge existing policy.
She told how sex workers had been “excluded” from both Holyrood and the general conversation about sex work for too long.

Ms Wolfson said: “There will be a right side of history and a wrong side of history on this one. 

“From the trade-union perspective, it’s an unusual venture, not because of the work they do but because they are self-employed and that’s not how we typically work.

“It is about collectivising this work. It’s about finding a way to make sex workers feel less isolated, because everything in the law is geared to isolate them – physically and otherwise – which raises questions about their safety.”

Ms Wolfson added, on the question of legislation: “Decriminalisation is not only a practical but a sensible and a moral step in terms of protecting women and protecting workers.

“Because of the Scottish Government definition that sex work is violence against women, the service providers (e.g. HIV testing) are mostly anti-decriminalisation, which makes them totally inaccessible and presupposes the conclusion to the conversation.

She added: “You can’t have a conversation about sex work without sex workers, and that’s one of the things that the GMB wants to make sure we change.”

The endeavours of GMB’s Scottish sex worker activists has been supported by sex workers across the country and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The Scottish LibDems opted to back the full decriminalisation of sex-workers and their clients as policy at their party conference in Hamilton last week.

But SNP MSP John Mason, representative for Glasgow Shettleston, said he continues to firmly back his party’s proposed stance on sex work.

He said: “Everyone is entitled to defend their interests. 

“I would accept that there are a few sex workers that are doing this out of choice, but I would suggest that it’s a very small number.

“The vast majority, mainly of women, but some men as well are in sex work or prostitution because, either they’ve been forced to, by financial circumstances, addiction or a partner, or they are being trafficked.”

He added: “The argument from a lot of former sex workers is that they are being abused across the board and so, therefore, we should oppose 
commercial sexual exploitation across the board.”

As part of their policy protecting the human rights of sex workers, Amnesty International advises “there is no reliable evidence to suggest that decriminalisation of sex work would encourage human trafficking”.

It adds that “under the Nordic model sex workers are still penalised for working together, or organising, in order to keep themselves safe”.