Labor and human rights activists sounded the alarm over possible grave labor abuse cases under the bilateral agreement between Thailand and Israel, as the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM) will no longer participate in the labor and migration processes.
The latest bilateral agreement between Thailand and Israel was renewed just this week, replacing the 2010 accord, which the IOM monitored.
The agreement outlined that 5,000 Thais will be shipped off to Israel to help improve the country’s agriculture industry.
Labor reports surfaced that Thai migrant workers are underpaid, overworked, and exposed to dangerous conditions.
Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, stated:
“The big problem is that the Thai Department of Employment has a … shoddy record of protecting rights of Thai farmworkers in Israel.”
Thailand’s labor authority offered reassurances, stating that they would follow the processes implemented by the IOM in their 2010 agreement.
He also added that workers will still be required to pay a recruitment fee of 70,000 baht to be shipped off to Israel.
Meir Shlomo, Israel’s envoy to Thailand, announced that the recruitment procedures would be “legal and transparent.”
As of this writing, the IOM has not commented on its decision to pull out from the agreement.
Over 25,000 Thai laborers supply Israel’s farming industry. Additionally, Thai workers in Israel are granted a monthly salary of USD1,545 (48,800 Thai baht), compared to Thailand’s average wage of USD220 (7,000 Thai baht) per month.
In Israel, a labor rights group, Kav La’Oved, reported that Thai laborers often seek their aid as the workers are underpaid, housed in filthy accommodations, and regularly exposed to unsafe labor practices.
The labor group said:
“We will follow closely … the new agreement as we are concerned about the return of unfair practices such as unreasonable brokerage fees.”
Activists are also worried over the new deal, stating that private enterprises may take advantage of the new processes by imposing expensive labor fees to aspiring workers, trapping them in a debt cycle.
A Tel Aviv University researcher, Yahel Kurlander, expressed his concerns over IOM’s departure from the labor deal.
Kurlander also stated that the new agreement failed to address the labor vulnerabilities of the migrants.
“No new solutions are suggested for workers that are exposed to exploitation and basic rights violations with regard to wages, access to healthcare, living conditions and a safe working environment.”
In one instance, a Thai laborer was abused by his employer, firing the worker for not working hastily enough. The maltreated worker stated:
“I want to go back home [to Thailand] because I’m afraid of him [the employer], I’m afraid he will hurt me.”
Thai workers are being outsourced not only to Israel, but also to South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.