In debates on the employment of migrant labor (“foreign workers”) and Israelis in agriculture, one claim is heard repeatedly: Israelis are unable to compete with the amazing capabilities of the Thais to work long hours under the hot sun. A document released by the Knesset’s Information and Research Center offers a worrying explanation.
From the Avoda Skhora (Black Work) website, 23 Nov. 2010
The document, entitled “Use of the drug Yaba among Thais working in agriculture and the reasons behind it,” was composed by Dr. Gilad Nathan at the request of MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash), chairman of the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse. It investigates the use of the methamphetamine known as Yamba among Thai migrant laborers working in agriculture. The information in this article is taken from the Knesset document.
Methamphetamine (sometimes known as Speed or Crystal Meth, among other street names) is a stimulant. The Nazis made use of this kind of drug as a stimulant for their soldiers, so they could continue their missions without feeling exhaustion. According to Wikipedia, even Adolf Hitler may have used this drug and become addicted to it.
Yaba is the Thai version. It usually comes as a pill which combines methamphetamine and caffeine. In Southeast Asian countries, Yaba is prevalent among workers. It is used to enable continued work and not as a leisure drug, and is considered to be highly addictive.
During the last few years, increasing quantities of Yaba pills are being found in Israel. Despite fears that the habit may spread to the general population, this is not being noted. However, there is increasing awareness about the use of Yaba among migrant workers in Israel’s agriculture sector.
Dr. Haim Mahal, head of treatment and rehabilitation at the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, believes Yaba is used as a stimulant for work, and not as a leisure drug. Thais, he says, are not “naturally” able to work longer than Israelis. In order to do so, and in more demanding conditions, they are compelled to use stimulants like Yaba. According to inspector Oshrat Orel, research officer into the drug chain, Yaba is used by Thais in agriculture who want to work longer hours than a regular worker is capable of. The drug was legal for many years in Thailand, and is used even today by Thai workers there.
According to testimonies collected by Kav Laoved (the Workers’ Hotline) from Thai workers, a Thai worker may labor 12-15 hours per day, and sometimes more in cases of employment under slave conditions. All Thai workers who contacted Kav Laoved said they worked at least six days a week, and some even reported on a shorter work day on Shabbat (i.e. six and a half days’ work per week). Moreover, there were reports of workers who received just four days off per year. Neta Rosenthal, coordinator for farm workers at Kav Laoved, notes that it is not just the long hours but also the difficult working conditions which leads the Thais to use Yaba.
In other words, Thais are not “naturally” able to work more than Israelis. Thais work long hours because they use psychoactive drugs which enable unnatural, excessive physical exertion. It may be assumed that without using such drugs, which endanger their health and life, their “output” would fall along with their ability to compete so advantageously with local workers.
Main conclusions and recommendations from the Knesset document:
•Explanatory and law-enforcement efforts must be increased among employers of Thai workers to prevent employment beyond the legally sanctioned work hours and during rest and vacation days. Thus, in addition to protecting their legal rights, the Thai workers will have no reason to use drugs which endanger their health and lives.
•Efforts must be made to explain legal work hours and rest and vacation days to the Thai workers, as well as the illegality of and danger involved in the use of stimulant drugs.
•An explanation of legal work hours, rest and vacation days, collective agreements and extension orders pertaining to the agriculture sector should be added to the leaflet on rights distributed among workers.
•During the preparation of this document, we heard professionals in the field say things which suggest the struggle against Yaba is not high priority because it is not “spreading” into the general population. Unfortunately, it seems we must remind those charged with treatment and law enforcement that they are obliged to provide services to all those in Israel legally, including citizens, residents and permit holders.
•The lack of enforcement of collective agreements among Thai workers increases their need to turn to drugs in order to cope with the workload; increases infringements of protective legislation; creates unfair competition which prevents Israelis from working in the agriculture sector; and means that employers get used to illegitimate employment norms.