Claim that strippers harassed on smoko break

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 01/07/2014

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Strippers and prostitutes at a Wellington club are being spat on and harassed after a court ruling forced them on to the streets during their smoko breaks, their employer says.

Garth Rosson, who owns Dreamgirls and Happy Pants in Dixon St, said that, since he was forced to shut down his smoking area last month, the women had had to congregate on the street to smoke, often while wearing very little clothing.

During their break, they faced verbal abuse from drunken passersby on the crowded late-night street. Rosson said some women had been assaulted and others spat on.

"You have got these prostitutes and dancers in the street in various stages of work clothes, and they are subject to all this abuse from passersby."

Splitrock 09, the company that owns Dreamgirls, was convicted and fined $1500 for allowing staff and customers to smoke in an unauthorised area late last month.

The club is one of only a handful of businesses taken to court over their outdoor smoking areas since lighting up inside bars, clubs and restaurants was banned in 2004.

Rosson said he built an outdoor smoking area when he was refurbishing the club a few years ago, which he believed complied with the law.

However, in June last year, he was visited by Regional Public Health, which told him the smoking area was too enclosed to be considered outdoor, and was unlawful.

He pleaded for the club to be given some "leeway" to protect the women but, when staff were caught lighting up in the indoor smoking area again in January during an undercover inspection, the Ministry of Health laid charges.

Rosson said surrounding businesses and residents were not happy about the new crowd of smokers, but there was not much he could do.

One nearby resident, Judge Bill Hastings, even raised the question of sparely attired smokers during a court hearing last month, pointing out that his judicial colleague who fined the club did not have to live next to it.

But in his findings, Judge Ian Mill said that, while he understood the club's concerns, "given the nature of the business" it was still unlawful to smoke inside.

"They simply cannot do this and comply with the act, and they must find another way."

Rosson said he had pushed for his staff to quit smoking as a solution, but had not had much success. "It's a reasonably stressful business, adult entertainment, and most people smoke cigarettes. You can tell them to quit all you like."

Ministry chief legal adviser Phil Knipe said the Crown took note of Splitrock's submissions, but was satisfied "that both the evidential and public interest thresholds were met for this matter to be referred for prosecution".

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"Despite repeated warnings and opportunity to comply with the law, the company chose not to comply . . .

"The company needs to take responsibility for how it complies with smokefree legislation and supports the safety and welfare of its staff and patrons."

- The Dominion Post

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