Many Thai women in the booming Czech massage parlour business are working in conditions bordering on slavery, LaStrada says
Many of the masseuses in the booming Thai massage sector in the Czech Republic are working in conditions that border on human slavery according to a report by La Strada, a non-profit organization combating human trafficking.
The organization questioned around a dozen of the estimated 500 Thai masseuses working in the Czech Republic at the end of 2010 and found that their employers severely limited their freedom and often exploited them. Masseuses often worked 12-hour days; in one case, women had not been given a single day off in two years, or were not paid if they fell sick.
In many cases, the masseuses amassed high debts with their employers — averaging around €2,000 — due to securing work permits and arranging other formalities, and the cost of a return flight to the Czech Republic, before they even started work.
“Such debts create a situation of dependence on their employers with the latter fearing that he would not get the money back,” La Strada’s Irena Kone?ná told Czech Position. “As a result, the workers’ passports are taken away from them, sometimes they are allocated minders and, in one case, the debts were artificially increased on the grounds of prolonging the visa.”
That worker was asked to pay K? 17,000 as an advance payment for a new visa but later found that no steps had been taken to obtain one. In another instance, bodyguards used violence to try to get back the passport of a woman who they thought was preparing to escape.
The La Strada survey found that many of the Thai masseuses are attracted from the northeast of the country — the poorest region of Thailand — with the remittances from foreign workers sometimes relied upon by whole families at home.
The workers often found a stark difference between what the employer told them when they were recruited at home and the reality in the Czech Republic. In one case, two contracts were drawn up for one masseuse — a model contract lodged with the Thai Embassy and another stipulating the real conditions.
Instead of the promised legal eight-hour day, masseuses often found they were working 12-hour shifts because “down-time” when they were not massaging clients was not counted as working time although they still had to be at the parlor.
Masseuses also found pay was well short of what they had been promised, with large deductions often taken out of their salaries to pay off their original debt.
Many Thai masseuses had the impression that some of their colleagues earned extra cash by offering sex (the so-called “happy ending”) although there were no clear cases of parlors being used as brothels or the employer running a parallel brothel offering sexual services.
“I am quite sure that it happens in some salons that masseuses did massage the customers as well as offer extra services. This is shown in the way the customers often asked if they could have my extra services as a prostitute,” one masseuse recounted in the LaStrada report. Under certain conditions, prostitution is legal in the Czech Republic.
Czech police have been keeping tabs on the Thai massage business, which has massively expanded in Prague and other Czech cities over the past three years. “It is a sector that we know quite well and have for a long time been working on,” the head of the special unit for combating organized crime (ÚOOZ), Robert Šlachta, told the daily newspaper Lidové Noviny.
La Strada say it is going to build on the picture it has built up of the exploited Thai masseuses in the Czech Republic by organizing seminars to help them become aware of their rights and by cooperating with the Thai Embassy in the Czech Republic to offer information. “The embassy alone has not got the resources to offer this sort of help,” Kone?ná explained.
La Strada International
The aim of La Strada International is to influence the authorities, the media and public opinion to address trafficking as a severe human rights violation. On a practical level, La Strada develops and offers protection and prevention activities for trafficked persons, people vulnerable to trafficking and other affected groups. The objectives of La Strada are:
Capacity building constitutes a central element of the La Strada programme and is crucial to tackle a controversial and sensitive issue such as trafficking in persons. Because of their independent status, organisations at the grassroots level can win the confidence of women who consider migration to the West and provide them with reliable information on the risks involved and how to protect themselves against those risks.
Trafficking reflects the poor social and legal position of women in many countries. It encourages deceit, abuse, violence, bonded labour, blackmail and deprivation of human rights. Trafficking currently flourishes in sex work, the agricultural, building and garment industries as well as the domestic labour and commercial marriage market.