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04.06.2024 / News /

Strippers sue bosses at “London’s premier club” over stolen wages

Dancers at SophistiCats in Soho have instructed their union, United Voices of the World, to start legal proceedings over trade union victimisation, unlawful deduction of wages, unfair dismissal, and bogus self-employment status.

The dancers organised with UVW after being subjected to intense pressure to sell champagne, abusive and threatening behaviour, fines – such as £50 for arriving a little late or using the toilet at an “inappropriate” time – and unfair application of rules and procedures at the club in Soho.

Rudy, SophistiCat performer said: “The atmosphere in the club is terrible, you can’t really make the money the way you want to. You have to always prioritise the club or the managers and their champagne sales. Sometimes they can get very rude and it feels like we were being forced to sell for them.”

The SophistiCat dancers are classified as independent contractors. They are paid per dance in a designated VIP area that lasts one hour. When a customer pays with a card, the club takes 40% of the dancers’ earnings, if a customer pays cash, the dancers receive 100% of their earnings. The payment per dance is recorded on a voucher and called a “tip”.

Trudy, SophistiCat performer said: “We’re forced to sell lots and lots of champagne in order for us to get paid, it does state in our contract that we have to sell champagne to get in a VIP. But there’s been times when the girls were refused to extend their time with the customer unless another expensive bottle of champagne was sold.”

After UVW wrote to the owner, John McKeown of “London’s premiers strip club” about the pressure to sell champagne and the “troubling examples of behaviour from managers which fall below acceptable standards”, SophistiCats bosses told UVW members there were no shifts available for them. The dancers, who had been there for dozens of years between them, have not worked since, despite being told by ex-colleagues that the club had hired six or seven new dancers.

Rose, SophistiCat performer speaking about the stolen wages said: “One day went by, then weeks and then another week and nothing. My manager came up with excuse after excuse, she kept telling me “tomorrow we will transfer the money” and no money ever came. I even showed her the messages from my landlord and still nothing. I had to ask my friends to pay the rent for me. Then once the letter was sent from the union, me and other girls were not given any more shifts. At first I didn’t know why they didn’t want us back, especially as I heard they’d hired a lot of new dancers. When I spoke to some of the other dancers and they said they were told we had been fired for being toxic.”

The legal claim UVW is bringing argues the dancers are misclassified as independent contractors working for themselves and should instead be classified as Limb (b) workers entitled to employee benefits such as sick pay, annual leave, pension, maternity and minimum wage.

Petros Elia, general secretary of UVW, said: “SophistiCats is renowned for its abysmal treatment of its performers and other workers and this legal claim and campaign will win justice for strippers, sooner or later. Our members at SophistiCats bravely organised to fight for their rights as workers and have suffered disgusting union busting victimisation. The courage they have to fight back is awe inspiring, especially given the blacklisting risk in the industry. Our members are not only fighting for their own rights and stolen wages but are providing an example for all strippers in the same position. Sex workers that organise in UVW make history, in 2020 they won workers status at two London strip clubs through the courts. We have a proud history of supporting sex workers’ rights and we will continue to do so.”

SophistiCats is no stranger to controversy, in 2020 the Euston club had their licence revoked after the Metropolitan Police accused the club of “taking advantage” of patrons.

Despite the stigma associated with the profession and family members not knowing about their job, the dancers are speaking out under the cover of anonymity to stop abuses in the future and fight for their rights as workers.

Helen, SophistiCat dancer said: “I am speaking under the cover of anonymity because my family members don’t know what I do but I have to stand up for myself and others, I don’t think it’s right for women to be treated like this. I joined the union because I got suspended (again) and one of the reasons was because I stood up about the champagne sales, I never cowered when they said “if the customer doesn’t buy a bottle of champagne for £1,000, you can’t do (dance) your time.”

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