Labor advocates set out to explain to Thai agricultural workers what rights they have in Israel. Instead, they are intimidated and chased away by the workers’ employers.
By Angie Hsu
In the rush before leaving Tel Aviv for the Arava Desert Friday morning, I ran into the bathroom and grabbed two bottles of sunscreen. It was the last item on my checklist, for myself, two co-workers and one volunteer from Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline. We were going to spend two days visiting Thai migrant agricultural workers in various moshavim in the Arava; I was told the weekend in the South was going to “feel like summer.” Relieved that I had remembered the sunscreen, I felt ready to go: we had flyers about labor rights in Thai to give to the workers and forms if they wanted to file complaints; we had rented a car and I had booked a place to stay for the night. In retrospect, it’s comical how much I had prepared for sun exposure, and how little for the hostility we would face.
Kav LaOved visits Thai agricultural workers around the country who live and work in various Israeli kibbutzim and moshavim about once a month. We bring informational material, answer questions, take photographs of their living and working conditions, and write down complaints workers want to file to various governmental bodies. Most of what we see and hear from the Thai workers is routine: salaries far under the minimum wage and almost total lack of social rights, harsh and often inhumane living conditions, and the persistent enthusiasm with which workers receive us. Rarely have employers intervened during these visits. In some cases, they have even understood and accepted our role as a labor rights organization. In others, they have asked us to leave. But in general, these Saturday visits go by without too many surprises.
On our way to the first stop of the day, Moshav Tzofar, we didn’t expect anything different. As we drove to the meeting spot the workers designated, however, we noticed there were no workers there, and instead we saw around five men sitting together in a tight circle. Our first instinct was correct — they were employers. We kept driving to an open park area, where we saw workers starting to gather. As we got out of the car, a man told us we had to leave, that parking wasn’t...Read More