The death rate among agricultural workers from Thailand in Israel is disproportionately high, according to statistics heard in the Committee on Foreign Workers last Sunday. In the last five years, 122 Thais working on farms have died. The session was attended by Thailand’s Ambassador to Israel Jukr Boon-Long as well as MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) and representatives of government ministries and volunteer organizations. MK Khenin said 122 casualties was too high a figure for a young population of foreign workers. “The enforcement of labor laws is inadequate, to say the least,” he said.
Steps must be taken to prevent more deaths by, among other things, medical examinations to identify syndromes, cooperation with the Israeli medical services on medical data of Thai workers and supplying health information in their own language and where they live, said the MK. The Thai ambassador said he valued the commitment in the Knesset to this important issue. “There are more than 20,000 Thai workers in Israel, and unfortunately, it is difficult to determine whether all of them are getting the rights to which they are entitled. It may be that the difficult working conditions of agriculture workers causes weakness that inflates the death rate among them,” he said. MK Khenin agreed that “there are more questions than answers and the figures are distressing. There is a major lack of reporting that makes it impossible to get an exact picture. Where is the state? Where are the supervisors? I turned to the Economy Ministry more than six months ago with queries on how many inspectors there are in the field. I still haven’t received any answers. There are systemic problems that have to be dealt with immediately.” Noa Shauer of Kav Laoved (Worker’s Hotline), a volunteer group helping foreign workers, said Thais working in agriculture complain regularly about 18-hour workdays and exposure to dangerous pesticides. “There is no doubt that there is a connection between this and the high mortality rate,” she said. Schauer called for immediate allocation of money for translators who would work in hospitals and clinics serving Thai workers. Of the 22,240 foreign agriculture workers in Israel, the vast majority are Thais, and over 95 percent are men. More than half are aged 29 to 38. Between 2004 and 2013, 154 foreign agriculture workers died, 86 of them suddenly at night, 24 from disease and 10 committed suicide by hanging.
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