Study highlights cabaret dancer abuses
Cabaret dancers in Switzerland still face many abuses despite moves to improve their working conditions, according to a study.
The Zurich-based Women’s Information Centre (FIZ), which commissioned the report, said many women were sexually exploited or were forced to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
The study, carried out on behalf of FIZ by the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies, surveyed 70 dancers from 11 countries.
Presenting the findings on Wednesday, FIZ said that almost all the dancers were forced to offer services that were not included in their work contracts or were illegal.
This included encouraging men to buy expensive alcohol – a key source of income for cabaret clubs – and offering sexual services.
Many dancers said they were regularly expected to work longer hours than stated in their contracts and that their salaries were subject to irregularities.
Marianne Schertenleib, from FIZ, told swissinfo that despite more regulations to protect dancers over the past ten years, the situation had actually become worse.
“Cabaret clubs are now struggling to survive because of competition from saunas and contact bars,” she said.
“Dancers earn even less than they used to and have to fight even harder for a new contract which makes them very vulnerable. Cabaret owners exploit this to give them more power over the dancers.”
Currently there are up to 1,800 cabaret dancers working in Switzerland.
In 2004 a new contract designed to improve working conditions for dancers – who mostly come from eastern Europe, South America and Asia – came into effect.
It was supposed to guarantee shorter working hours and better pay. Prostitution for women on a short-term permit, which is normally granted to dancers, was forbidden as was encouraging the purchase of alcohol.
Schertenleib said that the reality was very different.
“There is a growing financial incentive for the dancers to earn more money by offering sex if they are prepared to take risks with their health,” she said.
Cabaret owners were not discouraging alcohol practices because they were a source of income, Schertenleib added.
FIZ is therefore calling for a raft of measures to improve dancers’ lives. This includes charging customers entry to the club and making them pay for time spent with dancers.
This would mean the women would not be under pressure to drink as much alcohol while they were working, it added.
FIZ wants the ban on prostitution for cabaret dancers with a short-term permit to be lifted, and is calling for conditions to be set to avoid sexual exploitation.
It should also be made easier for women to change employers and to receive a decent wage and social security, said the women’s group.
Another important step would be more controls of working conditions in cabaret establishments by the authorities, recommended FIZ, as well as the dancers receiving more information about their rights and alcohol abuse.
There are an estimated 1,500-1,800 cabaret dancers in Switzerland.
There are around 300 cabaret clubs.
A dancer’s average wage varies between SFr1,000-SFr6,000 ($813-$4880)
The study was carried out by the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies. It was commissioned by the Women’s Information Centre for women from Africa, Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe.
It surveyed 70 dancers as well as 30 officials from federal and cantonal authorities and people in the cabaret industry.
Of the 70 dancers, 44 had a short-term permit and the rest had year permits, tourist visas or were in Switzerland illegally.
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