21 Jan 2015

Thai workers’ rights ‘abused on Israeli farms’

Thai farmers in Israel face low pay, hazardous working conditions and excessive working hours, according to a human rights group.

Thai agricultural workers break for lunch at a farm in central Israel

Authorities have failed to protect economic migrants from Thailand, Human Rights Watch claim. The report follows the death of a Thai farmer killed by a mortar shell fired from Gaza last year.

“The success of Israel’s agricultural industry depends on a large extent on the labour of Thai migrant workers, but Israel is doing far too little to uphold their rights and protect them from exploitation,” said Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch.

“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.”

According to government figures reported by Israel-based newspaper Haaretz, 122 Thai nationals died in Israel between 2008 and 2013. At least 43 of those deaths were attributed to ‘sudden nocturnal death syndrome’- an unexpected death which may occur during sleep.

‘Died in a cramped room’

Praiwan Seesukha, 37, who died in his sleep in a farming community called Kfar Vitkin, is one of or 20,000 employed in Israel’s highly developed agricultural industry.

According to interviews with Mr Praiwan’s colleagues conducted by Human Rights Watch, Praiwan typically worked 17 hour days a day, seven days a week, on a dairy farm and avocado nursery. He died in a cramped room in a farm shed.

In addition to deaths ascribed to ‘sudden nocturnal death syndrome’, there were five cases of suicide and four cases of murder. In 22 cases, no post-mortems were conducted so the cause of death could not be established.

‘Lived in cardboard boxes’

In the 48-page report, Human Rights Watch suggests that serious labour rights abuses may have contributed to this disturbing pattern.

The organisation conducted interviews with 10 groups of Thai workers and found that all of them were paid salaries significantly less than the legal minimum, forced to work hours in excess of the legal maximum, subjected to unsafe working conditions and denied the right to change employers.

One Thai worker showed researchers how he and his co-workers lived in cardboard boxes erected inside farm sheds. Labourers at several farms complained of headaches, respiratory problems and burning sensations in their eyes after using pesticides without adequate protection.

Some workers told the civil rights group that relatives had to send medicines from Thailand because they couldn’t see a doctor in Israel.

The Israeli economic ministry, which is responsible for trade and industry, had no immediate comment on the report.