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Foreign farm workers treated harshly

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Agricultural workers are the most exploited employees in the country, according to a report to be released on Wednesday by the Kav LaOved-Worker's Hotline.The report will "reveal the extremely difficult realities of the systematic exploitation and severe violations of workers' rights carried out in the agricultural field," Kav LaOved said in a statement on Tuesday.

The organization plans to send the report to the Knesset, to coincide with employers' plans to push the parliament to allow more foreign agricultural workers into Israel.Ninety percent of agricultural workers polled reported they worked more hours than the maximum and received no overtime pay, the group said.Most field studies carried out by Kav LaOved found that most of the workers receive less than the minimum wage.The most common complaint received by the hotline from foreign workers is that their paychecks are withheld for months at a time, or sent back to their home countries without them knowing.

Most of the approximately 30,000 agricultural foreign workers in Israel come from Thailand and had to pay brokers in Israel and Thailand between $8,000 and $10,000 to get their visas.

photo : ariel jerozolinski
Many of their paychecks are withheld arbitrarily, with debt to the brokers a heavy burden. There is widespread seizure of employees' passports as collateral, according to Kav LaOved.Workers typically are not paid for or do not receive vacation days, with many only getting a single day off per month.Ten percent suffered on-the-job injuries in the past year.

"The aggressive way agricultural employers push to receive more workers is the same aggressive way they behave toward their employees: withholding pay, failure to pay the minimum wage, and forcing workers to work with dangerous pesticides," Kav LaOved manager Hanah Zohar said.Authorities must act against exploitative employees, including revoking work permits for employers who violate labor laws, Zohar said.
She also called for greater education of workers about their rights, and for law enforcement authorities to set up a hotline for worker complaints.

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