Sex workers in Thailand are hopeful that the 14 May general election will see a new government come to power that will help decriminalize the country’s multi-billion dollar sex industry.
The new bill which has been drafted, is championed by Jintana Janbumrung, director-general of the Department of Women’s Affair and Family Development, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS), and hopes to help the country’s sex workers – estimated 300,000 workers – to continue their trade more safely and earn higher wages.
By giving them legal status “sex workers could access to the same welfare as other occupations, whose rights will not be violated, who will not be exploited by their clients or sex business operators [and have] a better quality of life,” says Jintana in a conversation with Voice of America.
The proposed bill, which repeals the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act 1996, will protect and regulate an otherwise “gray market” industry that often exploits its workers, who cannot turn to the police for help as their work is considered illegal at the moment.
The proposed bill also states that regular physical examinations will be required for sex workers to ensure their well-being and safety, the Thaiger reports.
As for the operators of the business, it will be mandatory for them to acquire a license that will be valid for three years. And in Bangkok specifically, businesses must register with the Metropolitan Police Bureau and provincial governors.
But, there are some skeptics who doubt the law will pass, given the massive number of bribes paid to officials that enable the sex industry to survive and thrive.
According to a 2015 study by Havocscope, a research company that collates information on global black markets, the sex industry in Thailand is worth around USD 6.4 billion annually, that is 3 percent of the country’s GDP that is not accounted for and recognized in the Thai Economic System.
Chuwit Kamolvisit, an outspoken former owner of a string of massage parlors, told Nikkei Asia, “This will not happen, the situation now has a gap for corruption — for officials to make money. They want it that way, closing one eye and opening another eye to make money and for the system to go on.”
Mai Janta (a nickname) says that the bar she works out of would not have to skim her wages to pay bribes so local authorities will turn a blind eye. She adds that this bill could get the bars to fix her wages at a guaranteed rate, which would not fluctuate at the owner’s whim, as they do now.
“If I gain weight, or if I can’t get the customer to buy more drinks, the bar makes its own rules to cut my wages. Those rules would be against the law, but since sex work is illegal, the bar takes advantage,” she told VOA news.
Mai feels that when labor laws are on the sex workers’ side, they would be able to get paid fairly and would be treated like other workers in other industries.
She hopes that others in Thai society will be more sympathetic to the predicament of people like her. She is now 30 and has worked in the industry for a decade, and strongly endorses the changes that will help sex workers earn a living freely and fairly