Israel - Migrant workers abused and exploited (2011)

According to local statistics Israel has some 255,000 foreign workers, of which about 125,000 are illegal. Maltreatment is prevalent, especially in the agriculture sector where poor working and living conditions, long working hours, sub-minimum wages and other forms of exploitation are common. Alongside Eastern European and Asian workers are tens of thousands of Palestinians who work for Israeli employers as documented or undocumented migrants. Racial tensions between immigrants and refugees and Israelis have been rising, and attacks on immigrants have been increasing.

Women represent the overwhelming majority of migrant workers coming to Israel, comprising over 80% of workers in the care-giving sector. These workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and situations of debt bondage, and sexual exploitation of female migrant workers is widespread. Female migrant care workers are also excluded from the legal protection of the Ombudsman on the rights of migrant workers except in cases of violence, trafficking or slavery.

In 2006 the High Court decided that the state’s policy of binding foreign workers to their employers infringed on basic rights and must be repealed. However, in practice the policy still exists: foreign workers who leave their work immediately become illegal residents who can be deported.

In November 2010 some 30 Thai workers brought to Israel via the manpower agency Interman and “Farmer’s Aid” complained to their employer about working conditions and sent a fax to a migrant NGO. The employer reportedly discovered the fax and took away the worker who had sent the fax. The other workers were unable to contact him until the next day when he was found back in Thailand having been deported that night. The workers had complained of long working hours, low wages, few vacation days and very poor living conditions.

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