Migrant workers in Israel’s agriculture sector are among the most exploited, according to a 28 October report by Kav LaOved, an Israeli NGO campaigning for the rights of disadvantaged workers in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Ninety percent of such workers work more hours than allowed under Israeli law, without overtime payments, said the report, which has been presented to members of parliament.
The report summarizes hundreds of complaints by agricultural workers and dozens of inspections by Kav LaOved volunteers at work sites around the country, and paints a grim picture of systematic exploitation and severe violations of workers’ rights in the agricultural sector.
Hanna Zohar, Kav LaOved director, said the workers, mostly Thai, are completely unaware of their rights.
“Having paid US$8-10,000 to work in Israel, they are prime material for abuse by the farmers, as they are afraid to lose their jobs and not able to pay off the loans taken to cover these payments to the middlemen,” Zohar said.
The launch of the report has been timed to coincide with the current campaign by farmers for additional permits for migrant workers, and is intended to further public debate on the issue.
Farmers have been demonstrating for more permits in recent weeks and there have been violent clashes with the police.
Some 30,000 migrant workers are employed in the agricultural sector, mostly from Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka and some from the Palestinian Authority, according to Kav LaOved and official figures from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour.
The Thai workers come from rural areas after paying middlemen in Thailand and Israel, and most work in remote and isolated locations, unaware of their legal rights, according to Kav LaOved’s research done in the past year.
The report said it is common practice in many agri-businesses to dock leave, and some employers give workers only one day off a month.
Employers who withhold passports - strongly condemned by the legal authorities - are still commonplace, according to Kav LaOved and Moked, another NGO which campaigns for the rights of migrants.
Since the beginning of 2009, 10 percent of agricultural workers (2,950) have been injured, the report said.
Harsh living conditions
Evidence of harsh living conditions and demeaning treatment crop up routinely in Kav LaOved’s inspection reports.
At a visit to one farm, IRIN found some workers living at a potato crop disposal site, in a small, stifling container. Workers told IRIN they cannot leave as they must pay off huge debts in their home countries.
The Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour spokespersons’ unit said: “The department of foreign workers has been investigating private manpower and building cooperatives to prevent [the] charging [of] migrant workers sums that exceed those allowed by law… In 2009, dozens of licenses were revoked… We ask Kav LaOved to work jointly with the attorney in charge of foreign workers’ rights in the ministry, Iris Maayan, and allow the different enforcement factors in GOI [Government of Israel] offices to work more efficiently. The issue is of great importance for the Ministry.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions