Thursday, January 22, 2015

  • Thursday, January 22, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
Human Rights Watch just issued a report about how horrible Israel treats its dometic Thai workers.

Here is the index showing the "rights violations" that HRW found in its research:

Pay and Working Hours
Fired for Striking
Unlawful Deductions, Overcharging for Food and Money Transfers
Living Conditions
Working Conditions and Access to Healthcare
Work-related Deaths
Right to Change Employers

HRW only issued one similar report on foreign workers over the past year, for domestic workers in the UAE. Here is a comparion of the issues they found there:

Physical Abuse
Sexual Violence and Harassment
Psychological and Verbal Abuse

Wage Abuses
Excessive Work and Working Hours without Rest Periods or Time Off

Passport Confiscation
Restricted Communication
Isolation and Forced Confinement

Denial of Adequate Food
Denial of Adequate Healthcare
Inadequate Living Accommodations

Forced Labor and Slavery

Even though the UAE issues are orders of magnitude worse than Israel's, the length of HRW's report on the UAE was about the same.

From looking at the list of topics about Thai workers in Israel, it appears that "Work-related deaths" must be the most damning section. And it does sound bad.

Indeed, an excerpt of the report published in the Bangkok Post as an op-ed was entitled "Thai workers in Israel are dying, and it's got to stop " It was also the highlight in The Guardian's article.

After spending 5 paragraphs about the sudden, unexplained death of a 37-year old Tahi worker, HRW says:

From 2008 to 2013, according to government figures provided by Minister of Health Ya’el German to Israeli Knesset member Dov Khenin of the Hadash party and reported by the Israeli daily Haaretz, 122 Thai workers died in Israel. Of these 122 deaths, 43 were from “sudden nocturnal death syndrome,” 22 from cardiac diseases including cardiac fibrosis and cardiomyopathy, and five from suicide. In 22 cases the cause of death was unknown reasons because Israeli police did not request a post-mortem.[118] Dov Khenin said it was “inconceivable that so many healthy young men die without alarms going off.”

122 deaths among workers between, say, 21 and 40 sounds bad. But HRW adds a crucial piece of information:
Sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) is a disorder that causes sudden cardiac death (typically of young men) during sleep and is found in south east Asia, particularly Thailand, Japan, Philippines and Cambodia.] A 2002 peer-reviewed medical journal paper concluded that SUNDS is “phenotypically, genetically, and functionally” the same as Brugada syndrome, an uncommon but serious heart condition that is a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young, otherwise healthy people around the world.
So a large number of these 122 deaths can be explained as natural causes, dozens of them would have died back in Thailand as well.

HRW then makes a leap, without any factual basis, that many of the men died from heat stroke:
Douglas Casa, a professor in the department of kinesiology and expert in heat exhaustion and heat stroke at the University of Connecticut, told Human Rights Watch that the combination of Israel’s climate and the working conditions described in this report were likely to significantly increase the risk to workers of heat stroke, which can be fatal.[121] Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not typically the result of pre-existing medical conditions, but rather of high temperatures in tandem with physical exertion. Whereas pre-existing cardiac conditions such as Brugada syndrome can only be detected by an electrocardiogram test, an autopsy can detect heat stroke as a cause of death and steps can be taken to reduce the risk of heat stroke. The main factors in adequately reducing the risk to workers of heat exhaustion are a work-to-rest ratio that takes account of the prevailing environmental conditions, and ensuring that the body temperature is allowed to cool during that rest time through the provision of shade and water.
But not one case of heat stroke was reported! Why is HRW making this assumption that the workers are dying from something preventable when there is literally zero evidence for it?

One more fact that HRW didn't mention in this section- how many Thai workers there are in Israel altogether.

It turns out that there are about 25,000 Thai workers in Israel, most in the agricultural sector. (HRW says 20,000, BBC says 28,000.) HRW quotes Haaretz saying 122 died over 5 years, meaning about 24 a year, or a mortality rate of 96 per 100,000 people. (122/100K as per HRW's figures.)

In the US, the mortality rate for people aged 25-44 in 2006 was about 145 per 100,000 people.

So the odds of dying as a Thai worker under horrible Israeli conditions is significantly less than it is of dying while working at a typical job in the United States for people of the same age. And that includes those who died of SUNDS.

But HRW won't give you context. They will say that all these workers are dying, and it must be Israel's fault - and if they cannot find a reason to blame Israel, they will literally make one up ("heat stroke.")

See also Honest Reporting.


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