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New app helps UK strip-club dancers know rights

By Julie Mollins

LONDON (Reuters) - A new iPhone app offers workplace tips for exotic dancers to help them protect themselves against financial exploitation, abuse and a lack of safety.

The "Dancers Information" application and a related website were conceived by researchers after findings from a study of the erotic-dance industry in England and Wales showed that current regulations of nightclubs in the sexual entertainment sector do not automatically address issues of employment status, welfare and security.

Researchers at the University of Leeds surveyed more than 300 women dancers about their working conditions in two separate sets of interviews beginning in 2010-2011, after a new law regulating the sex entertainment industry was introduced in England and Wales in 2009. It was not clear how the law would be implemented, and how it would affect up to 10,000 dancers who researchers said perform in clubs on peak weekend nights.

Most dancers were concerned that their welfare and working conditions were not being taken seriously by the new legislation and that the community's views were favored against dancers, the survey showed.

Most respondents had chosen the dancing because they found it a flexible, relatively high-earning, "cash-in-hand" form of work, the report showed.

Most dancers didn't report violence and felt safe in their workplace because of security staff, but verbal harassment and unwanted touching from customers was an issue, the report said. Some women reported being stalked.

The app provides tips on how dancers throughout can best work with their employers to manage customers, personal safety information, tax awareness and self-employment information.

All this is information that could take dancers a couple of months to discover on their own, researcher Rosie Campbell said, adding dancers were being left unprotected financially over the long term because most weren't paying toward the state pension.

"We have limited time, limited resources, so we thought, 'How can we get better reach to dancers?'" Campbell told TrustLaw, a news website run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation covering women's rights and good governance, at the launch of the app at London's City Health 2012 conference last week.

"We formed an online network of dancers based in different parts of the UK who were extremely helpful as the website and app were developed," she said.

One survey, which involved almost 200 dancers, showed they paid up to 200 pounds ($322) in fees and up to 80 percent commission to work in clubs, while also facing arbitrary fines from clubs of up to 50 pounds for chewing gum, using mobile phones, being late, absence or for being drunk.

According to the research, 96 percent of the dancers did not pay into a pension and 90 percent had never had a contract. More than 80 percent had never received a wage slip, while none had ever received holiday pay or sick pay.

Almost 60 percent said that a disadvantage of the work was not knowing how much money they would earn.

Although the age range of those surveyed was between 18 and 53, most of the dancers were between 22 and 29.

"We have argued for some form of regulation that takes on board working conditions and rights," Campbell said, adding that trade unions are interested in contributing to a planned upgrade to the Dancers Information app.

Not only was the app developed in consultation with the dancers, but HM Revenue and Customs provided tax information for the app and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which promotes personal safety, offered tips on staying safe.

"There's not a high degree of funky interactivity and functionality that are on some apps," Campbell said. "That's something we'd like to look at for the future should we get more funding - we had limited resources."

(This story was reported by TrustLaw, a news website run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation covering women's rights and good governance)

(Writing by Julie Mollins, editing by Paul Casciato)

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