Adult industry lobby group the Eros Association said more than 1000 adult retailers across the country were affected by the discrimination.
“Many Australians would be surprised the federal government is deciding what counts as a ‘real job’ because of prudish moral concerns,” said Eros Association general manager Rachel Payne.
“The current exclusion sends a message that adult-oriented products, and sexuality generally, is something to be ashamed of. It’s completely out of touch with modern Australia.”
According to Eros’ analysis, employment service providers were often unaware the law prohibits them from offering the subsidies to businesses in the sex industry, including retail.
Jules Pearce and Kyla Khattar, managers of nine Flirt Adult Stores in NSW, hired a woman on the disability pension about six weeks ago at their Bathurst store and an employment services firm wrongly advised they were eligible for a subsidy.
“I said, ‘you better check that because I think you’ll find you won’t be able to’,” Ms Pearce said. “It’s ridiculous. We are a retail business and we sell goods that are legal. We are providing a need and a service – no different to Kmart.”
Senator Cash referred questions to the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment, whose spokesperson noted the jobactive deed “does not expressly prohibit providers placing job seekers in employment in the sex industry, including in retail roles”.
However, they acknowledged that by denying any wage subsidy, “providers are not incentivised to refer job seekers to roles in this industry”.
This was desirable “to protect vulnerable job seekers who may otherwise feel obligated to take up work in this industry, including in retail”, the spokesperson said. Retail and wholesale positions in the sex industry were explicitly excluded in 2016 “to remove any ambiguity”.
Ms Carnell, the inaugural Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, said the exclusion of adult retail stores from the wage subsidies was “incredibly unfair and discriminatory”.
“It’s totally unreasonable to have some form of moral problem with a shop that sells dildos and other things,” she said. “They’re retailers, wholesalers, online suppliers just like anyone else. So I have no comprehension about why you’d separate them out.”