Sex workers first to be affected

CityNews – 27th March 2020, Empower Foundation, an organisation promoting rights and opportunities for sex workers in Thailand has written a letter to the government pleading for help.

“Many…are mothers and main family providers and carers,” stated the letter sent on the 19th of March. “Due to COVID the government has ordered closures of entertainment places which means that 100,000 sex worker across Thailand are out of a job.

“In emergencies women are often the ones who do the work of caring for others, yet this work is not recognised, nor compensated or supported. For example, even though entertainment places are reported to earn around 6.4 billion dollars per year and sex workers create 4-10% of the GDP, sex workers are criminalised and left out of labour protection and social security. The closure order affects sex workers who now have no income at all. Sex workers are ready to help society, but also still must pay their rent, live and care for their family.”

Empower is yet to receive a response from the government, and the number of sex workers without a job across the country has now reached 300,000. “We were the first to be affected when the government declared all entertainment venues close,” said Mai Janta, Community Representative of Sex Workers in Chiang Mai working at Empower Foundation.

“When the massage parlours, bathing venues, bars and karaoke closed we all agreed with and supported the government’s measures. Yet our kind of work means that we have zero chance of any income during this time and the government has shown no interest in helping at all. Now we can only follow the situation and check in on the women we know of, which is our 3,091 members across Chiang Mai. This government has focused on arresting and enforcing, never supporting. The labour law has never protected these women even though we contribute greatly to the economy. There are some women who are under the social security scheme; those working for larger businesses who have proper working hours such as beer girls, karaoke girls and such. But freelancers and women working in bars are often left out in the cold.”

Mai went on to explain that Empower is currently supporting basic needs of these women, most of whom are depressed and struggling to eat. The government’s 5,000 baht compensation per person without a job, which is still not available and may not be for months, only applies to a few women, as most, says Mai, are migrant workers or tribal people with no Thai ID.

“These are the most vulnerable,” said Mai. “They have nowhere to go and no resources at all. What we want is the nearly 500 million baht the government seized a few years ago from the human trafficking owners of Victoria Secret and Natalie massage parlours. Instead of that money going into the government’s coffers, it should be given to the sex workers the criminals exploited in the first place. That sum of money would reach all 300,000 of us. Ensuring these women’s survival should be the job of the government as they are the ones who have ordered the closure which has affected our income.”

“Look at Bangladesh and Malaysia, the governments are giving money to sex workers to stay home. This is a good incentive. We will do our best to care for our members, but what about the rest across Thailand?”