Ha'aretz, July 19, 1999
Thailand plans lawsuit against Israel for exploiting its foreign workersBy Yossi Bar-Moha, Ha'aretz Correspondent
The Thai government is considering filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the government of Israel, the Moshav Movement and local manpower agencies for failing to honor their contracts with Thai workers.
Thai ambassador to Israel Domedeg Bunnag said in an interview with Ha'aretz that earlier this month, he called on the Moshav Movement and the manpower agencies that handle Thai agricultural workers to increase the pay of their Thai workers at least to the legal minimum wage. He said that if the workers' conditions were not improved, his government would no longer permit Israel to import Thai workers.
"I am almost moved to tears when I see the conditions of Thai workers in Israel. They live in sub-human conditions, and are constantly exploited by both the moshav owners and the manpower agencies," he said. Some 80 percent of the workers are not paid the minimum wage stipulated by law, do not receive wage slips, are not paid overtime and are generally deprived of rights they do not even know they have.
Bunnag said the Thai workers are grossly underpaid. "They receive only 65 to 68 shekels per day, below the legal minimum daily wage of 75 shekels. I am also insisting that they be paid an additional 16 shekels per hour for the first two hours of overtime, as mandated by law. Each Thai worker is cheated out of 22 shekels per day by Israeli employers paying less than the minimum wage.
"I have informed them that if this situation is not rectified by September, my government will order all Thai workers in Israel to return home, and will cancel all permits regarding the importation of Thai laborers to Israel."
The ambassador had harsh words for the Israeli employers exploiting the workers. "They live in horrible sub-standard conditions, four or five workers sharing a small, old and underventilated caravan. They are charged a monthly rent of 600 shekels for this privilege."
He also criticized the employers for endangering their workers' health. "During a recent fact-finding tour I took with other embassy staff we came across numerous cases when workers spraying flowers had no adequate protection, and were wearing paper masks over their faces. Many workers return home sick with respiratory deseases, the result of not being given adequate protective gear when handling hazardous pesticides."
Bunnag also accused Israeli employers of cheating their Thai workers by overcharging them for their airfare here. He said the Thai government is planning to file a $30 million lawsuit for compensation to workers overcharged and underpaid by their employers, unless the relevant Israeli authorities do something to compensate the defrauded workers.
Efraim Cohen, who heads the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry's foreign worker administration, said he had met with the ambassador and heard his litany of grievances. Cohen said Israel regrets the exploitation and mistreatment of Thai citizens.
Cohen said that he would do what he could to rectify the situation, each complaint would be checked, and employers found guilty of exploiting their workers would have the book thrown at them.
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