Dancers at London strip club claim wages are withheld and hours were cut when they complained

A pair of knee high red boots visible at ground level between a man's smart shoes
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

A London strip club involved in an employment dispute with some of its dancers has blamed credit card 'chargebacks' for withholding payments owed to them. Some performers at SophistiCats in Soho claim they're still waiting on thousands of pounds in earnings and claim some dancers had their hours cut after challenging their managers over what they claim were unfair demands and rules.

SophistiCats has denied the allegations and said the funds have been frozen by banks and it intends to pay them out when they are unfrozen or after six months if they remain frozen by that time. MyLondon understands the case is before the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), an employment mediation service, and is in its early stages.

United Voices of the World (UVW), the union representing the performers, claims the workers have been targeted because they are union members - something SophistiCats denies - and claims they have had their payments unlawfully deducted. They also claim SophistiCats, which states on its website it is 'London's premier gentleman's club', has used the performers' self-employed status to circumvent paying them what they are owed or offering benefits, which the company denies.

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One SophistiCats dancer, who does not want to be identified because her family is unaware of her job, claimed she wasn't allowed to charge customers for a dance until she had sold a bottle of Champagne for £1,000. She claimed: "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."

Rudy, another dancer whose name has been changed to protect her identity, 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."

A SophistiCats director, who does not want to be named, told MyLondon performers are not forced to sell Champagne to customers. He said customers looking to hire a VIP booth have to purchase vintage Champagne, which start at £350 a bottle. He said customers are made aware of this by staff at the door.

Screengrab of SophistiCats on Brewer St, Soho
A SophistiCats director said the wages are being held up by the banks -Credit:Google

Rose, who also performs at the club and whose name has been changed, claims money she was owed was withheld from her. She 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."

Others have claimed they've been 'fined' £50 for arriving late or using the toilet at an 'inappropriate' time, which SophistiCats denies. UVW claims when a customer pays with a card, the club takes 40per cent of the dancers' earnings. But They claim dancers receive 100pc of their earnings if payments are made in cash.

'Downturn in trade' blamed for cutting dancers' hours

The SophistiCats director had denied the club issued 'fines' and said performers pay between £15 and £60 a week in 'house fees' because they are independent contractors hiring out a space. He said he cannot comment on individual cases but said a downturn in trade has resulted in all dancers receiving fewer hours.

The director said some have not been rehired after working at other clubs, and said whether or not they are union members has no impact on how shifts are allocated. He also said SophistiCats does not recognise UVW as a union, though UVW is on the UK Government's official list of registered trade unions.

The union claims its members were told there were no shifts available for them by SophistiCats bosses after a letter was sent listing 'troubling examples' of behaviour from a manager to the club's owner. The union claims dancers, who had been there for dozens of years between them, have not worked since and claim new dancers have been brought in.

The claim UVW is considering bringing forward, if arbitration does not work, argues the dancers have been misclassified as independent contractors and should instead be classified as Limb (b) workers - a type of employment whereby they are self-employed but have some benefits like sick pay and annual leave because they work at the same place regularly and the business relies on them.

'Disgusting victimisation'

Petros Elia, general secretary of UVW, praised the performers for coming forward. He said: "Our members at SophistiCats bravely organised to fight for their rights as workers and have suffered disgusting union busting victimisation and 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."

SophistiCats said the funds are currently tied up in 'chargebacks', which the club's director described as the freezing of a transaction on a customer's card by their bank. He said this is a common occurrence and happens when customers challenge purchases.

The director said the funds are paid out to the workers after six months regardless of whether the transaction is unfrozen or refunded to the customer by the bank. He said this regularly occurs with international customers.

A spokesperson for the club said: "The United Voices of the World is aware that the funds withheld from the performers are due to an ongoing issue with credit card companies concerning chargebacks. This situation is beyond our control, as we function as an intermediary between the payments made by customers and the credit companies for the services provided by the performers.

"We strongly refute any allegations of mistreatment of our performers. We are deeply committed to their welfare and have consistently advocated for their rights to work. In support of this commitment, we provide various facilities to our performers, including access to mental health counsellors, accountants, and immigration advice. We wish all our performers the best and feel very sad that a few feel this way and all monies owed will be paid as and when received."

The club said around £5,000 owed to performers is currently being held up by the banks. Mr Elia said at no point had the club told the union the wages had allegedly been held up in chargebacks. He said whatever reason the club gives for not paying the workers is irrelevant and urged SophistiCats to transfer the money owed.

In 2020, SophistiCats in Euston, the business's other club, faced potential closure after the Met Police and Westminster City Council ordered a licence review. The club said UVW provided 'critical support' in defending the rights of its performers and it was allowed to remain open.

An ACAS spokesperson said: "ACAS offers a free conciliation service when a worker wants to take their employer to an employment tribunal. We respect the confidentiality of both sides involved in these types of disputes and we cannot confirm details of cases that we deal with. If neither side wishes to try conciliation then the case can go straight to a tribunal."

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