Thai workers in Israel are dying, and it's got to stop (video)

Thai workers in Israel are dying, and it's got to stop (video)

Working up to 17 hours a day in often dangerous working conditions with no day off, roughly two Thai workers die every month on Israeli farms.


Thai workers in Israel are dying, and it's got to stop

Nicholas McGeehan

17 hour workdays with no day off, working in an unregulated work environment with no protection from pesticides, excessive heat and squalid living conditions are conditions that Thai workers routinely face and may play a role in the high death rate of roughly two Thai workers per month. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

Praiwan Seesukha, a healthy 37-year-old Thai man from Isan, went to sleep on the night of May 21, 2013, and never woke up.

On a tiny desk in the cramped room in Israel where he died were sheets of paper on which he'd methodically written down his working hours. The next day, Praiwan's colleagues cooked a meal in his honour, described him as a kind and very hard-working man, and confirmed what his notes showed: He had been working up to 17 hours a day, every day, with no day off.

What is shocking is that neither Praiwan Seesukha's death nor his working hours were exceptional.

There are 25,000 Thai workers in Israel's highly-developed agricultural sector. Almost half of them work under the terms of a 2011 bilateral agreement (the Thailand Israel Cooperation agreement, or TIC) that reduced the recruitment fees workers must pay to secure employment in Israel from approximately $10,000 (326,000 baht) to $850. This achievement — and Gulf states like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, where exorbitant fees remain a key part of highly exploitative labour systems, should take note. But new Human Rights Watch (HRW) research reveals that, despite this advance, serious human rights abuses are common in Israel's agricultural sector.

Between 2008 and 2013, 122 Thai agricultural workers died in Israel — roughly two a month. While some of the causes of death seemed to have no relation to their working situation, the official reason given for the 43 deaths was "sudden unexplained death syndrome", which supposedly affects young and otherwise healthy Asian men. And in another 22 cases, Israeli government officials didn't even investigate the cause of death.

But the authorities have not adequately looked into another highly plausible possibility — that some of these men died from heat stroke caused by overwork in harsh, sometimes desert-like conditions. Many of the 173 Thai workers HRW spoke to described gruelling work schedules. One worker said he felt "like dead meat" after a working day that typically began at 4.30am and ended at 7pm. A colleague of his described their employer who sometimes watched them working in his fields through binoculars, as treating them "like slaves".

When we visited workers on a number of farms, every group we met said they were paid salaries significantly below Israel's legal minimum wage and forced to work hours significantly in excess of the legal maximum. Living conditions were often primitive and unhygienic. We found one group of workers living in a large outbuilding — where they had ingeniously fashioned individual sleeping quarters out of scrap cardboard.

Another group lived in cabins adjoining a greenhouse and said they found it difficult to breathe in the hot summer months. We found another group living in a corrugated iron shed next to an outflow dump from a food packaging facility with no toilet facilities.

Despite the well-known dangers associated with spraying pesticides, many Thai workers said their employers provided inadequate protective clothing or none at all. Many complained of serious health problems from pesticide exposure, including chest pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. A pregnant woman told HRW that she and her partner "covered our mouths with our clothes" when working with pesticides.

In response to a group of 29 workers complaining of skin rashes they associated with their use of pesticides, their employer told them they should "drink water" and that they should call their families in Thailand and ask them to send medicine.

Israel's laws are intended to protect workers and deter illegal practices, but laws must be effectively enforced in order to be effective. The Israeli authorities have failed in this regard.

This is far from an intractable problem. The implementation of the TIC shows that the Israeli government is capable of taking steps that result in significant progress for workers' rights and welfare. This is true even in the face of opposition from influential lobby groups — like Israel's manpower agents, who strenuously opposed the TIC for cutting into their profits.

The Israeli authorities should establish a core law enforcement unit that is responsible for all aspects of safeguarding agricultural workers' rights, ensure that it is sufficiently staffed and resourced, and empower its inspectors to initiate investigations that would lead to meaningful sanctions for law violators. Ensuring that employers adhere to the law on minimum wage and maximum working hours should be a short-term priority.

Most urgently, government authorities should immediately conduct independent investigations into deaths of all Thai workers in the agricultural sector since 2008 with a view to impartially determine to what extent migrant workers' living and working conditions contributed to their deaths.

In the absence of such an investigation, with clear procedures to establish what role exertional heat stroke may have played in these deaths, the authorities' attribution of so many fatalities to a genetic predisposition to sudden death from cardiac arrest should be viewed with the utmost scepticism.

Israel needs to take steps to both safeguard Thai workers' rights and improve the reputation of a sector that makes an important contribution to Israel's economy. Inaction jeopardises lives and livelihoods.

Nicholas McGeehan is a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of a new study of conditions for Thai migrant workers in Israel.


Thai workers 'suffer in Israeli farms'

AFP News agency

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."

Learn from listening

Click play to listen to audio for this story, or download to save the file
: :


  • absence (noun): not being present - การหายไป ไม่ปรากฏตัว
  • abuse (noun): cruel, violent or unfair treatment, especially of someone who does not have the power to prevent it - การข่มเหง, การปฏิบัติไม่ดีต่อ
  • adequately: good enough or large enough for a particular purpose - อย่างพอเพียง, พอประมาณ
  • adhere to: to obey a rule, law, agreement, etc. - ทำตามกฎหมาย
  • agent (noun): a person or company that buys or sells something for someone else - ตัวแทน
  • agricultural (adj): of the science or practice of farming - ที่เกี่ยวกับเกษตรกรรม
  • approximately: used to show that something is almost, but not completely, accurate or correct - โดยประมาณ
  • aspect: one part of a situation, problem, subject, etc - ด้าน,มุม
  • associated with: connected with in some way - ที่เชื่อมโยงกัน
  • authorities (noun): government officials - เจ้าหน้าที่
  • authority (noun): a person or government agency who has the power to make decisions or enforce the law - เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ
  • bilateral: involving two groups or countries - สองข้าง, เกี่ยวกับกลุ่มทางการเมืองสองกลุ่ม
  • binoculars: a piece of equipment with two parts that you hold against your eyes and look through to see distant objects more clearly - กล้องส่องทางไกล กล้องสองตา
  • breathe: to bring air in and out of the lungs - หายใจ
  • cabin: a small house made of wood -
  • cardboard: very stiff thick paper, used especially for making boxes - กระดาษแข็ง
  • cardiac arrest: a sudden stoppage of the heart - ภาวะหัวใจหยุดเต้น
  • case: a particular situation or a situation of a particular type - กรณี, เหตุการณ์, สถานการณ์
  • chest: the upper front part of the body of humans and some animals, between the stomach and the neck, containing the heart and lungs - หน้าอก
  • colleague (noun): someone who works in the same organisation or department as you do or someone you know who has the same type of job - เพื่อนร่วมงาน
  • common: ordinary; not unusual or special - ที่เกิดขึ้นทุกวัน, ธรรมดา
  • complain: to say that you are annoyed, unhappy or not satisfied about somebody/something - บ่น, ร้องทุกข์
  • conditions: the circumstances or situation in which people live, work or do things - เหตุการณ์, สภาพการ, สถานการณ์
  • conduct: to carry out — - ดำเนิน
  • confirm (verb): to state or show that something is definitely true or correct, especially by providing evidence - ยืนยัน
  • contributed to: helped to cause an event or situation - ช่วยก่อให้เกิด
  • contribution: something that you do that helps to achieve something or to make it successful - ผลงาน,การช่วยเหลือ
  • core: the most important or most basic part of something - ที่สำคัญที่สุด
  • cramped: not having enough space or time - คับแคบ
  • day off: a non-working day; a day that a person does not do work on such as weekend or holiday or vacation time -
  • desert: a large area of land with few plants and little water and where the weather is always dry - ทะเลทราย
  • deter: to make someone decide not to do something - ขัดขวาง, ยับยั้ง, ป้องกัน
  • determine: to discover something by examining evidence to or calculate something - กำหนด, ระบุ, แสดงผล
  • dump (noun): a place where waste or rubbish/garbage is taken and left - ที่ทิ้งขยะ, กองขยะ
  • effective: officially begun to be used ; to take effect - มีผล
  • effectively: producing the result that was intended - ได้ผลดี
  • employer: a person, company, or organisation that pays someone to work for them as a member of their staff - นายจ้าง
  • employment (noun): when a person has work that earns them money - การจ้างงาน, การงาน
  • empower: to give someone the legal power to do something - ทำให้มีอำนาจ
  • enforce : to make sure laws are obeyed - บังคับให้ใช้, บังคับให้ทำ, ใช้กำลังบังคับให้ปฏิบัติตาม
  • ensure: to make certain that something happens or is done - ให้การยืนยัน, รับรอง, ให้ความมั่นใจ
  • environment: a place, including all the physical conditions that affect it - สภาพแวดล้อม, สิ่งแวดล้อม
  • establish (verb): to start something - สร้าง, ก่อตั้ง, จัดตั้ง
  • exceptional: much greater than usual, especially in skill, intelligence, quality, etc; - แตกต่างเป็นพิเศษ
  • excess: an amount by which something is larger than something else - ส่วนเกิน
  • excessive: much greater than is usual; too much of something   - มากเกินปริมาณที่พอดี
  • exorbitant: (especially of prices or demands) much too large - มากเกินไป  สูงเกินไป
  • exploitative (adj.): to treat someone unfairly in order to get some benefit for yourself - หาประโยชน์จาก
  • exposure: the state of being put into a situation in which something harmful or dangerous might affect you - การสัมผัส, การเปิดรับ
  • extent: size; the degree to which something happens or is likely to happen - ขนาด ขอบเขต
  • facility (noun): a building, equipment, etc., used for a particular purpose - โรงงาน, สถานบริการ, สิ่งก่อสร้าง, สิ่งอำนวยความสะดวก
  • fashion: to make or shape something, especially with your hands - ทำให้เป็นรูปร่าง, ทำให้เป็นลวดลาย
  • fee: an amount of money that someone pays to be allowed to do something, or in this case, to hire someone - ค่าธรรมเนียม, ค่าจ้าง
  • greenhouse: a glass house used to grow plants and flowers - เรือนกระจกสำหรับเพาะปลูกพืช
  • gruelling: very difficult and tiring, needing great effort for a long time - ทำให้เหนื่อย
  • harsh (adjective): cruel, severe and unkind - กระด้าง, รุนแรง, ห้าว, เกรี้ยวกราด
  • honour: to do something that shows great respect for somebody/something - เคารพ,นับถือ, ยกย่อง
  • human rights: the basic rights which it is generally considered all people should have, such as justice and the freedom to say what you think - สิทธิมนุษยชน
  • illegal: against the law - ผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย
  • immediately (adv): happening right after something else with no delay; right away - ทันที
  • impartially: in a fair way; not connected to or influenced by one particular person or group - เป็นกลาง ไม่เข้าข้างฝ่ายใด ยุติธรรม
  • implementation: the process of making something such as a plan, system, idea or law start to work and be used - การบังคับใช้ (กฎหมาย)
  • in this regard: in this matter or affair -
  • inadequate: not enough, or not good enough for a particular purpose - อย่างไม่เพียงพอ
  • independent: done or given by somebody who is not involved in a situation and so is able to judge it fairly - อิสระ, ไม่ขึ้นใคร
  • influential: of a person or group who has the power to affect a situation - มีอิทธิพล
  • ingeniously: done in a way very clever way; suitable for a particular purpose and resulting from clever new ideas - ชาญฉลาด, หลักแหลม, เฉลียวฉลาด
  • initiate: to start something or make it start - ริเริ่ม
  • inspector : an official whose job is to check that things are in the correct condition or that people are doing what they should - ผู้ตรวจสอบ
  • intended: planned; wanted to happen - ที่ได้วางแผนไว้ ที่ตั้งใจให้เกิดขึ้น
  • intractable: a problem that cannot be solved because it is too complicated or difficult -
  • investigate: to try to find out the facts about something in order to learn the truth about it - ตรวจสอบหาความจริง
  • investigation: the process of trying to find out all the details or facts about something in order to discover who or what caused it or how it happened - การสอบสวน, การตรวจสอบหาข้อเท็จจริง
  • investigation: the process of trying to find out all the details or facts about something - การสอบสวน
  • jeopardise: to risk damaging or destroying something important - เป็นอันตรายต่อ,เป็นภัยต่อ,ทำร่าย,ทำอันตราย
  • key: very important - ที่สำคัญ
  • kind: caring about others; gentle, friendly and generous - ใจดี, ใจบุญ
  • labour: people whose job involves hard physical work that is not skilled, especially work that is done outdoors - กรรมกร, ผู้ใช้แรงงาน
  • law enforcement: the process of making sure that people obey the law - การบังคับใช้กฎหมาย
  • legal: allowed by the law - ถูกต้องตามกฎหมาย
  • livelihood: (the way someone earns) the money people need to pay for food, a place to live, clothing, etc - การดำรงชีวิต, การครองชีพ
  • lobby: to try to influence someone, e.g., a politician, government official or the government itself - ชักชวน, วิ่งเต้น
  • look into (verb): investigate, find out the facts of something, find out what really happened; examine, inquire, probe - ตรวจสอบหาความจริง, ค้นหาความจริง
  • manpower: the supply of people who are able to work - กำลังคน
  • maximum: the most possible - ที่สูงสุด ที่มากที่สุด
  • methodically: done in a careful and logical way - อย่างมีแบบแผน
  • migrant worker: someone who travels to another place or country in order to find work - คนงานต่างถิ่น
  • minimum wage: the lowest wage, daily or hourly, allowed by law - ค่าจ้างขั้นต่ำ
  • nausea: the feeling that you are going to vomit (throw up food from the stomach) - อาการคลื่นไส้
  • official: done by people in authority or decided by the government; announced publicly - เป็นทางการ
  • officials: people who have the power to make decisions or enforce the law - เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ
  • oppose: to disagree with or not approve of a plan or policy - คัดค้าน
  • opposition: strong disagreement with a plan or policy - ความขัดแย้ง
  • package: the paper that a product is covered with in the store before it is sold, container, pack, packet - หีบห่อ, สัมภาระ, ภาชนะบรรจุ
  • partner (noun): two people, businesses, organizations, etc that work together on some project or business - ผู้ร่วมมือ, ผู้ร่วมกระทำ
  • pesticide: a chemical used for killing insects, especially those that damage crops - ยาฆ่าแมลง
  • plausible: reasonable and likely/possible to be true - น่ามีเหตุผล
  • possibility: the fact that something might exist or happen, but is not certain to - สิ่งที่เป็นไปได้
  • practice: a way of doing something - การปฏิบัติ
  • predisposition: to have a tendency to do something -
  • pregnant: having a baby developing inside the body - ท้อง ตั้งครรภ์
  • primitive: very simple and old-fashioned, especially when something is also not convenient and comfortable - เบื้องต้น, ง่าย ๆ, เก่าแก่
  • priority: something important that must be done first or which needs more attention than something else - การมาก่อน
  • profit: money that you make from selling goods and services after all your costs have been paid - กำไร
  • progress: the process of improving or developing, or of getting nearer to achieving or completing something - ความก้าวหน้า
  • protect: to make sure that somebody/something is not harmed, injured, damaged, etc - ป้องกัน,อารักขา,คุ้มกัน
  • protection: the act of protecting somebody/something; the state of being protected - การอารักขา, การปกป้อง
  • protective: providing or intended to provide protection - ซึ่งปกป้อง
  • quarters: rooms that are provided for people (monks, soldiers, workers, servants, etc.) to live in - ที่พักอาศัย
  • rash: an area of red spots that appear on your skin when you are ill or have a bad reaction to something that you have eaten or touched - ผื่นคัน
  • reason (noun): why something happened or exists - เหตุผล
  • recruitment: the process of finding people to work for a company or become a new member of an organisation - การสรรหาใหม่
  • relation: the way in which two or more people or things are connected with or involve each other; a connection; a relationship - ความสัมพันธ์
  • reputation: the opinion people have about how good or bad someone or something is - ชื่อเสียง
  • research: a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it - การวิจัย
  • resource: a supply of something that a country, an organization or a person has and can use - ทรัพยากร
  • response: a reaction to something that has happened or been said - การตอบสนอง
  • responsible for: to have a duty to do something - มีความรับผิดชอบ
  • reveal: to show something that was covered or hidden - เปิดเผย
  • right: a moral or legal claim to have or get something or to behave in a particular way - สิทธิ
  • role: the purpose or influence of someone or something in a particular situation; function or job - บทบาท
  • roughly: approximately but not exactly - โดยประมาณ, อย่างคร่าวๆ
  • routinely: regularly, done often - จำเจ, บ่อยๆ, ซ้ำซาก
  • safeguard: something which protects something/somebody from loss, harm or damage; something which keeps something/somebody safe - สิ่งป้องกัน, สิ่งคุ้มกัน
  • safeguard: to protect something/somebody from loss, harm or damage; to keep something/somebody safe - ป้องกัน, ปกป้อง, คุ้มครอง, อารักขา
  • salary: a fixed amount of money that you earn each month or year from your job - เงินเดือน
  • sanction (noun): a course of action that can be used, if necessary, to make people obey a law or behave in a particular way - การลงโทษ
  • scepticism: (adjective form is sceptical) doubting that something is true or useful - ความสงสัย,ความแคลงใจ,ความระแวง,ความไม่เชื่อ
  • schedule: a plan that lists all the work that you have to do and when you must do each thing - ตารางเวลา, กำหนดการ
  • scrap: old metal or paper that can be used again after going through a special process - เหล็กเก่า ๆ สำหรับหล่อหลอมและเปลี่ยนรูปใหม่,เศษเหล็ก, เป็นชิ้นเล็กชิ้นน้อย
  • sector: a part of a country’s economy or business activity - ภาคเศรษฐกิจของประเทศ
  • secure (verb): to get or achieve something - ได้มา
  • shed: a small building , often used to keep tools or supplies - เพิง , พะ, พะเพิง, สิ่งปลูกสร้างมีทั้งชนิดชั่วคราวขนาดเล็ก และชนิดถาวร ประกอบด้วยหลังคาปีกเดียว
  • sheet: a thin flat piece of paper, metal, plastic, glass etc - สิ่งที่เป็นแผ่นแบน (เช่น แผ่นกระดาษ, แผ่นเหล็ก, แผ่นแก้ว)
  • shocking (adj): that offends or upsets people; that is morally wrong - เขย่าขวัญ,ทำให้สะดุ้งตกใจ,เลวมาก
  • significant: important - สำคัญ
  • significantly: in an important way - อย่างมีความหมาย, อย่างสำคัญ
  • situation: all the circumstances and things that are happening at a particular time and in a particular place - สถานการณ์
  • skin: the outside covering of the body - ผิวหนัง
  • slave: a person who is owned by other people; a person who is treated as a thing to be owned, personal property of another - ทาส, ผู้ทำงานหนักและได้ค่าแรงต่ำ
  • spray: very small drops of a liquid that are sent through the air; to cover somebody/something with very small drops of a liquid that are forced out of a container or sent through the air - ละอองน้ำ, น้ำที่กระเซ็นเป็นฝอย ฉีด; พ่น
  • squalid: dirty, messy, a place that is unpleasant and not nice to live or work in -
  • staff: workers employed by a person or organisation considered as a group - คณะผู้ทำงาน, คนงาน
  • strenuously (adv): strongly; needing or using a lot of physical or mental effort or energy - ขยันขันแข็ง, ซึ่งต้องใช้กำลังมาก
  • sudden (adj): happening quickly and unexpectedly กะทันหัน - กะทันหัน
  • sufficiently: having enough of something - เพียงพอ
  • supposedly: believed to be; thought to be - เป็นที่เชื่อว่า
  • symptom: a sign that someone has an illness - อาการ
  • syndrome: a set of feelings or actions that are typical in a particular situation; a medical condition that has a particular set of effects on your body or mind - ลักษณะเชิงซ้อนต่างๆ ที่บ่งบอกถึงสภาพใดสภาพหนึ่ง, อาการของโรคต่างๆ ที่เกิดขึ้นพร้อมๆ กัน
  • take steps to: take some action to achieve some goal or solve some problem -
  • terms: conditions; requirements - ข้อกำหนด
  • treat: to behave in a particular way towards somebody/something - ปฏิบัติ(ต่อ)
  • typically: usually; normally - อย่างเป็นแบบฉบับ
  • unhygienic: not clean and therefore likely to cause disease or infection - ไม่ถูกสุขอนามัย
  • unit: a part of a company or organisation that carries out a particular function; a group of people who work or live together, especially for a particular purpose - หน่วย,กอง,กลุ่ม
  • unregulated (adj): not controlled by laws or rules - ไม่ได้ควบคุมโดยกฎหมายหรือกฎระเบียบ, ไม่เป็นระเบียบ
  • urgently: needing to be dealt with immediately - อย่างเร่งด่วน
  • utmost: as much as possible: used for emphasizing a quality or feeling - สุดขีด, อย่างมาก
  • violator: a person who goes against or refuse to obey a law, an agreement, etc. - ผู้ฝ่าฝืน, ผู้ละเมิดกฎ
  • vomit: food from the stomach brought back out through the mouth - สิ่งที่อาเจียนออกมา
  • wake up (verb): (past "woke up) to stop sleeping - ตื่น
  • welfare (noun): good care and living conditions - ความสะดวกสบาย, ความมีสุขภาพดี, สวัสดิภาพ
  • well-known (adj.): famous, everyone knows about it - ซึ่งมีชื่อเสียง, ซึ่งเป็นที่รู้จักกันดี, เป็นที่รู้จัก, เลื่องลือ
  • with a view to: with the intention or desire to; wanting to; intending to -
Do you like the content of this article?