16 Apr, 2018 5:00am
The therapist was offered $15.50-hour, which is high by her country’s standards, to work at a Thai massage parlour in Auckland.
But when she got here Prachantasen said she was told her employment contract was for “immigration purposes only” to get her a work visa.
Instead, she would only get a 41 per cent commission for the massages that she gave.
“My whole life in New Zealand is just centred around [the company], because I was expected to be there from opening to closing time… so in fact, I had no life,” Prachantasen said.
Immigration New Zealand area manager Marcelle Foley confirmed investigations were currently underway in some parts of the massage industry.
The company closed down following an investigation by the Labour Inspectorate.
“The Labour Inspectorate investigated [the business] and provided support to an employee to engage with the liquidator to claim unpaid holiday pay, which has led to an unsecured creditors claim being lodged,” Foley said.
“INZ works alongside the Labour Inspectorate and other government agencies as part of a whole-of-government approach to combat migrant exploitation.”
However, Prachantasen’s application to transfer her work visa to work at another Thai massage business was declined by Immigration.
She was also declined a partnership visa following her marriage to New Zealander Daniel Gray and they have both left for Thailand.
A woman, who worked at a Chinese massage outlet in an Auckland shopping mall said she was paid $30 for a 10-hour work day.
Another Thai massage therapist said she had to offer “happy endings” to clients in order to make ends meet.
The therapist, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, was here on a legitimate work visa.
Like Prachantasen, she too was recruited in Thailand, and was offered – on paper – a $19-an-hour salary but is being paid just on commission.
“I give happy ending (a sex act) because I have to make the most money from every client, otherwise I won’t have enough money to pay rent,” she said.
More than 300 massage therapists have been granted visas to work in New Zealand over the last two years.
Foley said although New Zealand legislation specifically excluded migrants on temporary visas from lawfully providing commercial sexual services, they could be granted visas to work as massage therapists.
Massage therapists required a skill level 2 position, so applicants needed either a level 5 qualification or three years’ relevant experience to be approved a work visa, Foley said.
“Applications for a visa to work as a massage therapist are robustly assessed,” Foley added.
Over the last two years, there were 389 applications lodged by foreign nationals to work as massage therapists and 303 had been approved.
But many working in massage parlours and centres that offered sexual services were migrants on temporary visas, such as a student or visitor visa.
Foley said the agency was “very aware” that migrants working in the massage therapy industry could be “vulnerable to exploitation”.