August 14, 2014

Press Release – For Immediate Publication

Agriculture in Israel – Report by Kav LaOved: There is a danger that the Israeli agricultural industry will become dependent on violating the minimum wage law.

According to a report by Kav LaOved, the systematic violation of minimum wage laws by farmers who employ migrant agricultural workers has become a phenomenon built into the structure of the agricultural industry in Israel. On average, migrant workers earn about 70% of the salary that is due to them according to the law. The financial injury to workers is likely to reach half-a-billion NIS a year. Last month the organization of food corporations called out to their members to behave with corporate responsibility and fair treatment of agricultural workers, reflecting their acknowledgement of the severity of this problem.

A new report presented by Kav LaOved confirms that information provided by workers that contacted Kav LaOved in 2013 describes an unmistakable and disgraceful picture that farmers in Israel are violating wage regulations in the agricultural sector, thereby establishing a structural phenomenon upon which nearly the entire agricultural industry is based.

Hundreds of migrant agricultural workers in Israel turn to Kav LaOved every year to report on a variety of violations of labor law and human rights. These complaints include a seven day work week, sexual harassment, being bound to the employer, working overtime without compensation, as well as other offenses. This report brings to light that wage law violations are very common and confirming that most farms, from the Arava to Metula, do not pay migrant agricultural workers the salary to which they have a right according to the law. The report warns that the agricultural industry has become dependent on violating wage laws, making it crucial to strengthen law enforcement while providing the support that the farmers need.

Based on analysis of the data provided by workers, Kav LaOved estimates that the average worker labors 309 days a year and the average salary is 70% of the minimum wage resulting in a loss of 74.28 NIS per worker per day or a loss of 23,000 NIS per worker annually. Based on 22,000 migrant workers employed in the agricultural industry, the loss of income is estimated at half-a-billion NIS a year. The broad extent of this phenomenon leads to the view that the migrant workers’ great financial loss represents large profits flowing into the farmers’ hands. (Farmers are allowed to deduct workers’ salaries only up to 25% of their income as detailed in the attached report in Hebrew on page 11.)

Kav LaOved recently sent an appeal to the marketing networks, food suppliers, and other corporations asking them “to establish a process to evaluate if workers in the supply chain are being treated fairly with the hope of ending the violations of workers’ rights in the entire agricultural industry.”  Kav LaOved called on the industry “to acknowledge the responsibility of corporate partners in the agricultural industry supply chain to act for the benefit of food production workers including those who are invisible due to their position at the edge of the supply chain which makes it easy to violate their rights as workers and as human beings.”

From the report: [relating to farmers’ distress] “Even if only a portion of the claims made by farmers towards the government are justified, it is unfair to compensate them with an “indirect subsidy” at the workers’ expense. We conclude this report by suggesting that the government and the institutions of civil society begin with policy changes such as redoubling wage and labor law enforcement, deliberation on the option to support agriculture as in the rest of the world, easing of the burden of employers’ fees that are not for the welfare of the workers, and encouraging unionization.”

According to Noa Shauer, Coordinator for Agricultural Workers at Kav LaOved, “The State of Israel is making a double error by grossly abandoning the agricultural sector and allowing the development of an environment that makes it easy to violate the rights of workers who are brought to Israel from various countries. It is unacceptable that the agricultural industry which is central to the economy should depend on the exploitation of workers that it employs. In the light of the data in our hands, we call on the Ministry of the Economy that has the responsibility, the resources, and the authority of law enforcement, to conduct a transparent investigation that will highlight the facts regarding the employment of migrant agricultural workers in Israel and the need to protect their rights for the welfare of all workers in the industry.”

Click here for the original report “Below the Minimum” (in Hebrew)

Other publications on the subject:

Ynet, August 14, 2104 “Agricultural workers earn 70% of minimum wage”

Haaretz, August 14, 2014 “Kav LaOved: Hundreds of foreign workers in the agricultural sector are being paid only 70% of their salary.”

Translation: Sharon Kerpel