(Reuters) - Germany passed a landmark bill on Friday to boost the low legal standing of prostitutes and give sex workers the right to unemployment benefit, retraining, health insurance and a pension.
Sex workers will be legally entitled to turn away customers, refuse to perform certain sex acts and take disputes with clients over payment to court under the bill passed by the Bundestag lower house of parliament.
``Prostitutes' services are used around 1.2 million times a day. Prostitution may be seen as immoral -- but it is clearly in big demand,'' Christine Bergmann, Minister for Family, Seniors, Women and Young People, said in a statement.
Prostitution is not illegal in Germany and sex workers pay tax on their earnings, but sexual services were previously described as ``immoral'' in the German legal code.
The bill, which still needs the approval of the upper house of parliament or Bundesrat, means prostitution can no longer be described as ``immoral'' and sex workers can sue if they feel mistreated.
Andrea Petsch, a spokeswoman for the sex worker lobby group Hydra, said the new plans were a good start.
``It's a step in the right direction. We still need some kind of work permit for immigrant prostitutes, who make up nearly half of the 400,000 prostitutes in Germany,'' she said.
``We welcome that prostitution is no longer listed as immoral, that prostitutes can sue over pay and qualify for social insurance. Long-term it might change people's views. But that will take a very long time,'' Petsch said.
Germany has a liberal attitude to sexual mores. Red light districts in areas such as the Reeperbahn in Hamburg and other German cities are tolerated by local authorities, although there was little legal protection for the sex workers themselves.
``We've had a double-morality about prostitution for decades. This law means prostitutes get better social and legal protection. Longer term, they have better chances to get out of the profession,'' Bergmann said.
``The law is a successful balance: the legal discrimination against prostitutes is lifted, but clients and brothel-owners do not have a better legal position,'' Bergmann said.
The bill was introduced by the ruling Social Democrats and their Greens coalition allies. In the vote, it was also backed by the liberal FDP and the reform Communist PDS and was opposed only by the conservative opposition.
``The law allows for real contracts with brothel-owners. which contain the usual duties for employers. This closes the door on exploitation,'' commentator Dagmar Borchert wrote on the women's issues portal of the Meome Web site.
While the law gives prostitution many of the rights of regular employment, the government insisted it was not elevating prostitution to the status of a ``normal'' job.
I personally think its's been long overdue to give more rights for sex-workers while trying to ensure that exploitation is prevented and also keeping forced prostitution illegal. In my opinion, this new german bill sends the strong message that sex work is "real" work, that sex workers hence deserve the same rights as people in other businesses, and that it is indeed a job many people freely choose to take up. A great step into the right direction, this bill.
So what's your view on this? Do you think a similar law might or should be passed in your country or state?