by Surasak Tumcharoen
BANGKOK, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- Thai women who may have planned to make an honest living as old-fashioned masseuses in Malaysia's Sarawak state are strongly advised to think twice.
Anchana Hirunyapruek, a senior official in charge of employment affairs affiliated to Thailand's Ministry of Labor, said on Tuesday that hundreds of Thai women were reported to have had difficulties working at massage parlors or health spas in Sarawak, part of Borneo Island in Malaysia.
They had been tempted by job agents in Thailand to work as old- fashioned masseuses in the Malaysian state, though they could have chosen several other foreign countries where such jobs were also available and even offered more pay.
Many of the Thai women, who had paid more than 200,000 baht (6, 600 U.S. dollars) each to get hired as masseuses in Sarawak, usually had their passports seized by their employers upon arrival so that they could not leave.
The Malaysian employers reportedly deducted huge sums from their fees to cover the costs of travel from Thailand to Sarawak and the money spent for fees in obtaining their work permits.
"They were given less pay than earlier promised by their employers and were not allowed to leave the premises of the massage parlors or health spas where they work," Anchana said.
Some Thai masseuses tried to quit and return home but they were prevented from leaving by their employers and were often threatened by violation of their work contracts.
Most of the Thai workers could not understand what was written in their contracts because they were in English or other foreign languages.
Nevertheless, dozens of the Thai masseuses had managed to escape and sought the help from Thai officials attached to the labor agency in Kuala Lumpur. Many others were reported to follow suit, Anchana said.
She said some have been sexually or physically molested and others were reportedly offered as prostitutes to clients in the massage parlors where they work.
"The employers who had already seized their passports told them to never leave and continue to work. Physical assaults on Thai women in Sarawak were even reported," she said.
The Thai masseuses had expected to earn an average of 5,000 ringgit (1,600 U.S. dollars) in monthly wage, but they were eventually paid just about 500 ringgit a month, because the employers had made so much deduction out of it.
Most of Sarawak's massage parlors and health spas are located in the state capital of Kuching, Bintulu and Sibu. About one- fourth of Sarawak's population of 2.4 million is of Chinese descent, another one-fourth is Malaysians and about 30 percent is native Iban tribesmen.
The Thai-style massaging of the human body and limbs has become a very lucrative business in Thailand and elsewhere around the globe.
Foreign tourists in Thailand usually visit old-fashioned massage parlors and health spas where they may spend a few hours for the pleasure of being massaged by young women.