Sweden’s tax-paying prostitutes win right to paid sick leave

HELSINKI — Swedish prostitutes have won the right to claim benefits, including sick days and parental leave, bringing their social security closer to that of other taxpayers.

Sex workers will be able to claim sickness benefit of about 80 percent of annual income of a maximum of $47,460, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency said. The benefit will run for as much as a year for any illness lasting at least 14 days. For the self-employed, the first seven days are unpaid.

“As long as sex workers pay their taxes, they should have the same access to sick-leave benefits and parental leave as anybody else,” Joakim Jarnryd, a director at the Stockholm- based organization, said by telephone Thursday. “We don’t make any moral judgments.”

In Sweden, selling sex is legal and prostitutes can register to pay taxes using euphemisms, which qualify them for benefits. Even so, buying their services isn’t legal in the Nordic country and customers run the risk of fines or imprisonment for as long as six months.

Sweden’s sex-purchase ban dates from 1999 and neighboring Norway passed a similar law in 2008. While prostitution hasn’t been banned in Denmark and Finland, it isn’t regulated. Unemployment benefits and pensions aren’t within the purview of the Swedish agency.

The organization decided to extend the benefit to prostitutes after examining the matter last month, Jarnryd said. It had resolved cases in 2003 and 2010 before the review. The number of people seeking the benefit will probably be low as “very few taxpayers have registered as sex workers,” he said.

Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is preparing a proposal for parliament this year that may include increasing the maximum time of imprisonment for buying sexual services to as much as one year, her spokeswoman Anna Erhardt said by telephone.

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