Israeli Farm Employers Short-changing Thais, Advocacy Group Says

Employees only receiving 70 percent of wages to which they are legally entitled, reports Kav LaOved Workers Hotline.

David Bachar

Migrant agricultural workers are paid only about 70 percent of their lawful wages, according to a report by Kav LaOved Workers Hotline.

Based on complaints from 217 Thai workers in 2013, the report says employers had withheld 23,000 shekels from each of the complainants last year – amounting to nearly 5 million shekels.

The report blasts the Economy Ministry’s failure to enforce the law and suggests that employers withhold foreign workers’ pay in general, not only in agriculture.

The complainants said they are paid about 16 shekels per hour, while they should be paid 23 shekels by law. The average pay for an hour’s overtime (over eight hours a day) is about 19 shekels, instead of the 28-34 shekels employers must pay by law.

Some complainants said they worked more than the maximum 12 hours a day allowed by law. However, the average number of daily work hours is 10. The average daily pay they received was some 169 shekels, instead of 244 shekels.

“In the absence of being able to examine a representative sample of workers or employers, it is impossible to make a complete assessment,” wrote Noa Shauer of Kav LaOved, who wrote the report. “However, in view of the considerable information accumulated, it is likely that the average pay the complainants’ receive is very similar to all the agricultural workers’ wages.”

The report states that the Economy Ministry sends inspectors who do not speak Thai to investigate workers’ complaints. Consequently they hear only the employer’s version. “With no direct communication with the workers, the inspectors cannot properly examine the situation and enforce the law,” according to the report.

The ministry denied this assertion, saying the inspectors are accompanied by translators and hear the workers’ testimony first. The ministry said it received 238 complaints from migrant agricultural workers in 2013 and opened 171 cases against employers. Since the beginning of 2014 it has received 183 complaints and opened 130 investigations.

In a Knesset committee meeting examining the migrant workers’ problem, headed by MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) some two months ago, the head of the Economy Ministry’s enforcement department, David Meir, said the farmers have been attacking the inspectors who come to examine workers’ complaints.

“Our inspectors have been attacked by farmers three times. As soon as a team comes to a moshav they report to the others, who all arrive with jeeps and large vehicles and attack our team. In one case inspectors were beaten so badly they had to be hospitalized,” he said.

The Israel Farmers Association said that the 217 complaints indicate a low number of law violations. They said “on no account can it be concluded that the farmers don’t pay according to the law.”