Thais return to Israel, despite risks
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Thais return to Israel, despite risks

Farms keen to have valued workers back

A worker digs ground on a farm in Israel. Many Thais are returning to work in the agricultural sector there even though the Israel-Hamas war is intensified.
A worker digs ground on a farm in Israel. Many Thais are returning to work in the agricultural sector there even though the Israel-Hamas war is intensified.

Many Thai labourers have returned to work in the farmlands of Israel for financial reasons in the past month despite Israel's intensified conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

"On average, I can earn about 600 baht for about two hours of work in Israel. To get that amount in Thailand, I would need to work for a full day. I may even earn less," Satid Prom-u-narot, 37, told the Bangkok Post.

He was among the first group of Thais repatriated by the government after the Oct 7 attack by Hamas on the Middle Eastern country, which left hundreds dead or taken hostage.

His camp was attacked by militants. Fortunately, all 19 Thai workers there were safe. Concerned about his safety, he decided to return home to Nong Khai on Oct 12 after working in Israel for nearly two years.

However, after a week-long stay at home, he said there was nothing he could do in Thailand to earn the amount of money he received in Israel.

"I have mechanical skills, so I earn a living by working odd jobs like installing air-conditioning, electrical wires and CCTV systems," he said. "But I cannot save a lot of money for my family.

"I will go to Israel to complete my five-year contract."

Lack of good offers

Labour Ministry figures show the country brought in about 30,000 Thais to work in Israel under the Thailand-Israel Cooperation on the Placement of Workers programmes before the war broke out.

Most hailed from the northern and the northeastern regions of Thailand. They included ethnic minorities living in Chiang Rai and farmers and workers from Udon Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Bua Lamphu, Sakhon Nakon, Buri Ram, Khon Kaen and Nong Khai.

About 95% worked in the agricultural sector in Israel. After the war began, the government repatriated 9,475 Thais, while about 20,000 decided to stay.

The ministry offered each repatriated worker 15,000 baht from its fund and 50,000 baht from an emergency fund for aid. The government also offered low-interest loans of up to 150,000 baht via Government Savings Bank and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to help workers clear any debts owed to job brokers or even it pursue other careers.

However, Mr Satid said he doesn't want to be in debt again. He had only just cleared a 200,000-baht debt with his relatives. "I can clear a 200,000-baht debt in just six months by working in Israel," he said. "I even saved some money to send back to my parents and 14-year-old son."

Mr Satid said he earned about 60,000 baht per month, or up to 90,000 baht with overtime. He said he had one day off per week.

"My employer is kind. He is a retiree. He sometimes brought me and my colleagues to dine in a fancy restaurant as a thank-you gift when his farm had a good yield," he said.

"Our boss also understands us. He will let us take a break during Thai holidays, such as Songkran and Thai Mother's Day and Father's Day."

He said when his employer contacted him and asked if he wanted to return to the farm, Mr Satid said he did not hesitate to say yes. Even a friend who had already found another job in Taiwan wanted to quit to fly to Israel with him, he said.

According to the Labour Ministry, the Israeli Foreign Workers Administration is offering Thai workers with contracts the chance to return without having to apply for re-entry. They just need to inform authorised recruitment agencies, it said.

"I'm glad for the call. I cannot wait to return to Israel to work. I want to complete my contract and save money for my family," he said.

Financial motivation

A 43-year-old woman from Buri Ram told the Bangkok Post that she was among 20,000 Thai workers who decided to stay and work in Israel when the conflict erupted.

"I work in a safe zone. My employer also gave us an extra 1,000 shekels, or about 10,000 baht, each as an incentive to not leave the job and fly back to Thailand," she said.

If many workers left the country, a shortage of pickers and farm caretakers would result, she said. Those fruit and vegetables would be left to rot.

About 10 Thai workers who left the country from October to November had since returned to their farm, she said. They also received the same salary and benefits, making returning to Israel more appealing than working in Thailand.

Although Israel plans to solve its labour shortage in the agriculture sector by increasing quotas for foreign workers from Sri Lanka, Moldova, Kenya and Malawi, Thai labourers believe that Israeli farmers prefer Thai workers because of their farming skills, she said. They know how to plan and take care of fruit and vegetables as well, she said.

"On average, our contracts last five years and three months. Our employer is happy to welcome Thai workers back," she said. "We learned that Thai workers remain their first choice for the agriculture sector."

Scam warning

A Thai worker from a northern province who spoke to the Bangkok Post said her friends have come across fraudulent job offers on social media while browsing to work abroad.

The advertisements promised well-paying jobs in Israel, and the scammers acted like a recruitment agency, she said. They targeted those who had never worked in Israel and used the labour shortage situation to lure newcomers.

"There is no such thing as a recruitment agency that will connect you to an employer in Israel," she said. "Every year, there is a quota for overseas workers, including those from Thailand, to work in low-skill sectors, including agriculture and construction.

"Do not believe in any recruitment agencies on social media offering jobs in Israel," she said, adding those who want to work in Israel should wait for an announcement from the Employment Office in their province.

Open to opportunities

Samran Thuratham, a 41-year-old man from Udon Thani, said he had no money coming in after returning from Israel at the end of October. He said he kept thinking about flying back to Israel.

"I worked on a farm in Israel for four years. Although I didn't want to fly back to Thailand, my family was concerned about my safety, and urged me to leave the country," he said.

"My employer did not want me to leave because it was the beginning of a harvest season but he understood my family's concern," he said.

While living in Udon Thani for a month, he said he realised he would have a better future in Israel. He said he called a colleague at the farm to check on the safety situation.

"Unfortunately, my employer had found a replacement for me. He is not Thai, but from another country. I hope that one day I will receive a call from my boss telling me to go back to work on his farm," he added.

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