FIFO workers is the name given to the thousands of workers (mostly men) who fly in and out of mining towns around Australia, to take advantage of the current boom.
But along with the people who work on (and under) the ground doing the actual business of mining, there is a different type of FIFO worker out there. And they are the sex workers who fly in and out, providing their services to the miners who are away from home.
The topic of sex work in mining towns has recently hit the mainstream media after a sex worker in Queensland was involved in an anti-discrimination case. The worker was told by a motel that she was no longer allowed to operate her business from their premises, but she challenged that decision in court and won.
Exactly what would life be like for a woman in a town full of men? As a sex worker, would your day to day life be different when your clients are people who were a long way from home, probably pretty bored in the evenings and starved of female company?
Mamamia spoke to Janelle Fawkes who is the CEO of Scarlet Alliance, which is the organisation that represents the rights of sex working in Australia, about the secret rise of sex workers in mining towns. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you tell us a little bit about the women who are flying in and flying out of mining towns in Australia. Who are they? Where do they come from? Do they work as sex workers in the cities they come from, or is it just something extra for women who work other jobs?
‘Touring’ or travelling for work is not a new practice for sex workers. Lots of workers who tour, travel to other capital cities for work trips and some also travel to regional locations, mining towns or cities near mining towns. It’s one of the many great things about our job that we are able to work when we travel. Some workers enjoy working in an intensive block of say 10 days and then having time off with family and friends. Locations like Kalgoorlie in WA have had workers travelling there for work for decades. I used to go there and work in my uni break.
Obviously there is a demand for this type of service in mining towns, how big of a demand are we talking?
There is a demand for sex work anywhere that there are people! Of course the greatest demand is in capital cities purely because of the concentration of people. Some workers say the work is less busy in mining towns and more busy where miners and other people go on break to relax.
What would be a typical days work for a FIFO sex worker?
Sex workers are sex and gender diverse and not a homogenous group – clients too.You could be pretty sure for most workers a work day includes checking your emails/calls, preparing your space and equipment including safe sex supplies, planning out your day and what you are wearing, scheduling times, dealing with towels/laundry, making sure to fit in food and answering a lot of enquiries!
Do workers notice any differences in the attitudes of clients compared with that of clients in cities?
Some workers say there are less time wasters (people who ring up to get information with no intention of booking) and that bookings are more straight forward or easy going.
How does the income differ from sex work in regular cities? Is it reflective of the mining boom and the amount of money workers are making?
As a sex worker travelling to a mining, regional or other city location (including capital cities) you are usually planning on working longer hours or in intensive blocks (several days straight). If you are working independently you need to make back your travel and accommodation overheads before you make a profit (or income) or if you are working for a sex industry business or escort agency you need to do more jobs to make the same amount (as the agency takes a cut of the amount the client pays) but your overheads are usually less up front. Prices are not generally higher (if at all) in mining or other locations. Of course clients pay more depending on what service they are requesting and the length of time they want to spend with the worker.
Where do the women operate from?
Sex workers work from a range of locations depending on where they have travelled to. Frequently though this may include an apartment, hotel or motel. In regional locations, mining towns and small cities the cost of hotels, motels or apartments is higher, options are fewer and there is less availability (especially if there is an event on) and sex workers do struggle with discrimination from hotel, motel and apartment operators.
Recently in Queensland a highly publicized case of a sex worker who had been traveling to a mining town and staying in a hotel for several years was refused a room based on the fact that she was a sex worker and would be working from the room. As the Queensland Anti-discrimination laws cover sex workers in Queensland she took a case to the commission, lost the first case, but then won on appeal. This sends an important message to the community that the high level of systemic discrimination against sex workers is not acceptable any longer.
Of course this win doesn’t mean that if you were a sex worker staying in a hotel, motel or apartment and you were creating a disturbance then of course the hotel could ask you to desist from the nuisance behaviour and if you continued you could be asked to leave. In this way hoteliers still have the right to address nuisance behaviour but can not discriminate against a sex worker just because they are doing sex work.
In the majority of cases sex workers are extremely discreet and nobody even realises sex work is taking place. It should be understood though that there are hotels, motels, and apartments throughout Australia that recognise sex workers are valuable customers for their business and do not discriminate – they even assist by providing extra towels etc.
What’s the biggest barrier for sex workers in FIFO towns?
The infrastructure of small towns/cities and mining towns is often low. Health care services, suitable accommodation and general amenities may be hard to access or not available. Also sex workers are away from their usual social support networks and family and friends and may experience isolation in the same way other FIFO workers do.
It should be remembered that sex workers are both FIFO workers (although this is a new term that covers what is a long historic practice amongst sex workers) but we also provide services to other FIFO workers. In this way it should be recognized that sex workers working in these locations are providing a valuable service to that community and of course contributing back into the community by spending money in that location.
In many regional locations I have found the local community to be friendly, interested and respectful. Locations like Kalgoorlie in WA have recognized that sex work is part of their history and even have bus tours of the historic sex work strip. One of the sex industry businesses even has a daytime tour of the building!
It’s important to remember the members of The Scarlet Alliance are smart and savvy women. They run their own businesses. They know their rights. But there’s another type of sex worker in these mining towns – and that’s the trafficked sex worker. Recent news reports suggest young women from South-East Asia are being trafficked to the mining towns in Queensland to work as sex workers – also on a fly in, fly out basis. And they’re reportedly being coerced and threatened into doing it.
It kind of makes you wonder. When you take thousands of men and place them in towns hours away from their loved ones…. Is this what happens?