Thai workers' rights abused on Israel farms: HRW

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Thai labourers employed on Israeli farms suffer from low pay, dangerous working conditions and very long hours, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Wednesday.

According to the 48-page report entitled: "A Raw Deal: Abuses of Thai Workers in Israel's Agricultural Sector," the 25,000 Thais employed in the Jewish state are working in conditions which contravene Israeli law.

Workers must tolerate "low pay, excessive working hours, hazardous working conditions and poor housing," it said.

"The success of Israel's agricultural industry depends to a large extent on the labour of Thai migrant workers, but Israel is doing far too little to uphold their rights and protect them from exploitation," the New York-based organisation said.

"Israeli authorities need to be much more active in enforcing the law on working hours and conditions, and in clamping down on employers who abuse workers' rights."

The report's authors interviewed 173 Thai workers in 10 separate farming communities across Israel.

"All said that they were paid less than the legal minimum wage, forced to work far more hours than the legal limit, exposed to unsafe working conditions, and had difficulties if they tried to change employers." In nine of the communities, the workers were housed in "makeshift and inadequate" accommodation, it said.

The Israeli economy ministry, which is responsible for trade and industry, had no immediate comment on the report.

But The Workers Hotline, an Israeli NGO, said the report supported its own findings.

"The Israeli agricultural sector is a greenhouse for violations of migrant workers' labour and human rights," it said in a statement.

"Lack of enforcement has become a key component in the horrendous situation of migrant workers in this field, as reflected in the (HRW) report."