Calls for law change to allow migrants to work in New Zealand sex industry

There are calls for a law change to allow migrants to work in the sex industry to reduce the risk of them being exploited and abused.

It comes on the 20th anniversary of the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalising sex work.

But advocates say there's still more work needed to end the stigma around the industry.

The world's oldest profession became the country's newest legal business 20 years ago. The Prostitution Law Reform Bill passed by the narrowest of margins after a fiery debate.

Dame Catherine Healy, the founder of New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, was a major driving force for change. Hours before the vote she was unsure it would pass.

"It just felt like all this weight off us. It was historic. We knew it," she told Newshub.

The key aims of the Act were to safeguard the human rights of sex workers, protect them from exploitation, and promote their welfare and occupational health and safety.

"Sex workers have far more choice. In my day of being a sex worker we had to work in licensed massage parlours and pretend that we weren't sex workers," Dame Catherine said.

While New Zealand led the way with law reform, Dame Catherine told Newshub there is still stigma and discrimination and more changes are needed.

"We have a really nasty piece in the Prostitution Reform Act that prohibits migrant sex workers from working, we would like to see that repealed," she said.

She said the ban makes non-citizens and residents more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

"I am not aware of that being something that we are looking at doing at this point in time," Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Carmel Sepuloni said.

The anniversary coincides with a petition calling for better protection and working conditions for strippers.

"In strip clubs, we are meant to be independent contractors. A lot of our managers have been treating us like employees. They take a ridiculous cut of pay which is unfair," activist Vixen Temple said.

The petition closed on Sunday - amid hopes of another historic step forward.