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The story of a migrant worker

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(N. from Nepal was employed with meager wages; he was exploited, humiliated and then thrown in jail. This is the story of migrant workers in Israel, people who are used as tools for quick profit.)
The majority of migrant workers in Israel are exposed to disgraceful exploitation by their employers. The employers do not act in vacuum – the State of Israel, with its laws and degrading attitude towards the rights of migrant workers, gives a clear message to job brokers and employers that the workers are nothing more than tools.

One can charge exorbitant amounts of money from workers simply for bringing them over. Basic rights to family life and childbirth are denied. It is legitimate to “bind” workers to their employers, and rarely would the authorities come to enforce or check the conditions in which workers are employed.

These issues have been discussed many times in the media, and I estimate that the public is aware of the large scale of exploitation and humiliation. But what happens when a worker tries to find out what his rights by law are and demand them? The worker is detained! That’s what happened to N., a worker from Nepal who was detained by the Oz unit.

During the trial the visa expired

After five years of working in Israel, N. decided to find out what his rights were and approached Kav LaOved. The investigation revealed that his employer imposed even more disgraceful conditions than common: workers received wages much lower than the minimum and the right for days off and holidays was denied. Frequently workers were forced to work dozens of consecutive days, more than 16 hours a day. Some were fined when they were five minutes late to work, and the hands of one worker were seriously hurt as a result of overexposure to chemical substances.

Immediately after collecting N.’s testimony and the documents in his possession, Kav LaOved decided to take N.’s case to court. But during the few weeks that it usually takes to file a case, N.’s visa expired. From that point, the way to the Ramle jail was short.

While in custody, N. presented to the Oz unit inspectors a letter from Kav LaOved, clearly stating that the organization was representing him in legal proceeding against his employer, for which he should remain in Israel a few more weeks. The inspectors were probably inspired by Tsiki Sela, the commanding officer at the time, who believed that organizations providing aid to migrant workers were interested in the destruction of Israel. With much “sensitivity and compassion”, they carried N. in the detainee’s van. Now he is waiting in his cell for the Court decision on whether he can be released on bail.

Years of disgraceful abuse and exploitation

Four months ago, following a complaint by Kav LaOved, the economic unit of the immigration police started an investigation against N.’s employer. Within a month, charges of exploitation and fraud were made against the company owners.

But this is of no concern to the Israeli Minister of Interior Affairs, the Oz commander or inspectors. From their point of view, N.’s stay in Israel is illegal, because his visa expired two weeks ago. What about his rights to severance pay, fair wages for years of hard labor, denied days off and holidays and other social benefits denied him during all those years? How can a person exercise his legal right to sue his employer for years of disgraceful exploitation under the threat of detention and deportation? Minister Eli Yishay may has the answer.

When I heard about N.’s arrest, I recalled my trip to Nepal ten years ago, and how enthusiastic I was about the hikes I took there, the views, the excellent food – but mainly about the generous and smiling people. In contrast, it will be interesting to see what N. will have to tell his family and friends about Israel and its citizens, after his many years of exploitation and humiliation.

by: Tom Mehager, nrg
Tom Mahager is Coordinator of migrant farm workers project in Kav LaOved.
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