Thai Elephant Camps Layoff Workers

By Network Media Group
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Thousands of Burmese nationals employed in the elephant camps near the northern Thai city Chiang Mai have seen their salaries slashed or been laid off after the camps were forced to close for nearly two-months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Neh Nel, who works at one of the camps as a cleaner, told NMG that before the closures an elephant handler—or mahout—earned 200 baht (est. US$6) per day, not including tips from tourists.

Typically, it’s men that work as mahouts and women are hired as cleaners.

For those lucky enough to still have a job, they are making half of what they used to earn, Neh Nel said. “One-hundred baht a day can buy a snack for their children” but it’s not enough to feed an entire family.

Even at full salaries the wages at the elephant camps fall short of the 320 baht (est. US$10) Thai minimum wage.

Neh Nel told NMG during the COVID-19 lock down no-one is allowed to leave the camp or have visitors.

Win Win Mar, who was employed at another elephant camp before being laid off, told NMG she’s finding it difficult to survive. “We don’t have shelter or food. We want to return home but the road is closed.” For now, Win Win Mar and the others that lost their jobs are staying with those that are still employed. She said there’s only 10 staff left to care for the 50 elephants in the camp. Win Win Mar told NMG not all workers have work visas. Many are from Karen or Kayah states and some returned home before Thailand locked the border.

Zaw Min Htwe, who is in charge of the labour department in the Burmese Consulate in Chiang Mai, told NMG that no-one from the elephant camps has contacted the government. “If they seek help from us, we will go to help them,” he said.

Before the layoffs there were about 1,000 workers from Burma employed at 10 elephant camps near Chiang Mai. There are more than 190,000 migrant workers registered with the Thai Labour Ministry in Chiang Mai Province, according to information obtained by labour groups. In Thailand, there are over 2 million registered workers from Burma.