Group alleges Thai workers’ rights abused on Israel farms
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Group alleges Thai workers’ rights abused on Israel farms

Human Rights Watch says agriculture employees work long hours for little pay and are housed in dismal conditions

Thai foreign workers working in a cabbage field, near kibbutz Beerim, southern Israel. July 16, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Thai foreign workers working in a cabbage field, near kibbutz Beerim, southern Israel. July 16, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Thai laborers employed on Israeli farms suffer from low pay, dangerous working conditions and very long hours, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Wednesday.

According to the 48-page report entitled “A Raw Deal: Abuses of Thai Workers in Israel’s Agricultural Sector,” the 25,000 Thais employed in the Jewish state are working under conditions which contravene Israeli law.

Workers must tolerate “low pay, excessive working hours, hazardous working conditions and poor housing,” it said.

“The success of Israel’s agricultural industry depends to a large extent on the labor of Thai migrant workers, but Israel is doing far too little to uphold their rights and protect them from exploitation,” the New York-based organization said.

“Israeli authorities need to be much more active in enforcing the law on working hours and conditions, and in clamping down on employers who abuse workers’ rights.”

The report’s authors interviewed 173 Thai workers in 10 separate farming communities across Israel.

Thais returning from a working day in Kibutz Elifaz, southern Israel. October 22, 2008. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90)
Thais returning from a working day in Kibutz Elifaz, southern Israel. October 22, 2008. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

“All said that they were paid less than the legal minimum wage, forced to work far more hours than the legal limit, exposed to unsafe working conditions, and had difficulties if they tried to change employers.”

In nine of the communities, the workers were housed in “makeshift and inadequate” accommodation, it said.

The Israeli Economy Ministry, which is responsible for trade and industry, rejected the notion that it is not working to enforce labor laws for foreign workers.

In a statement the ministry told The Times of Israel that it began to take responsibility for foreign workers in 2010 and keeps track of any infringements by employees via information it receives for the Population Immigration and Border Authority as well as rights organizations that also operate a hotline for Thai workers to lodge complaints.

The ministry said that since taking up the mantle it has received 503 complaints, of which 496 have been attended to. In addition, 560 cases were opened against employers in the agriculture sector, of which 234 were during 2014. Officials also handed out some 483 administrative alerts, 31 fines totaling 423,100 shekels ($107,384) along with seven indictments.

But The Workers Hotline, an Israeli NGO, said the report supported its own findings.

“The Israeli agricultural sector is a greenhouse for violations of migrant workers’ labor and human rights,” it said in a statement.

“Lack of enforcement has become a key component in the horrendous situation of migrant workers in this field, as reflected in the (HRW) report.”

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