Smuggled drugs keep Thai workers on the job for hours

Agricultural workers who are required Israeli employers to work long hours in field are taking methamphetamines to keep awake, according to Knesset report.

November 25, 2010 03:34
3 minute read.
Smuggled drugs keep Thai workers on the job for hours

foreign thai workers 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Many agricultural workers from Thailand who are required by their Israeli employers to work very long hours in the field are taking methamphetamines – known in their home country as Yaba – to keep awake, according to a Knesset Research and Information Center report.

Taking the drug is regarded as the only way that Thai can work longer hours than Israelis are able to, the report said. Without taking the stimulant, there would be no incentive for employers to hire them over Israelis (willing to do agricultural work).

Most methamphetamines are either injected with syringes, snorted or smoked. But Yaba is a pill that comes in a variety of colors and is small enough to fit in the end of a drinking straw.

Knesset Anti-Drug Committee chairman MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) has asked Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) to prepare an action plan to deal with the problem for the committee’s meeting on December 14.

Mickey Arieli, head of the Health Ministry’s unit that fights pharmaceutical crime, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the illegal drug, which is widely used in the Far East, is imported by the workers themselves in packages containing “personal items” that are mailed to Israel. According to information from the research division of intelligence at the Israel Police, the phenomenon is prominent among Thai agricultural workers and the drug is not sold to the general Israeli population.

“It is very hard for the customs officials and police to catch all of it,” Arieli said.

Barakei asked the three ministers to prepare an information program for notifying foreign workers from the Far East about the number of hours they can legally work and that Yaba and similar drugs are illegal in Israel. He also requested a plan for preventing the importation of methamphetamines and other stimulant drugs to Israel as well as methods of dealing with this type of drug.

He noted that greater enforcement of labor laws is needed to protect foreign workers from being forced to work like slaves, almost around the clock, seven days a week, in violation of the law.

According to the Knesset report, Yaba is the most commonly used drug in South East Asia, where it is known as the “crazy drug” and some 37 million people use it. About 25 million pills were seized there last year.

The methamphetamine was first produced in Nazi Germany with the brand name “Pervitin” to cause soldiers and factory employees working long hours to stay alert. Today, the pill contains methamphetamines mixed with caffeine to boost the effect. Thai also use it as a “party drug.” Just one pill, according to the report, is enough to make people feel awake and alert for three or four days, but regular users feel they need to take a pill daily.

The pill can raise blood pressure, reduce body temperature, speed up heartbeat, harm kidney and lung function, cause small blood vessels to explode, trigger a stroke and lead to violence, depression, nervousness and hallucinations.

In Israel, the drug was first seized in May 2009 by customs officials who found 63,000 pills in packages sent from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Most of them were addressed to foreign workers in moshavim placed in the Arava and Ramat Hanegev.

Over 70 suspects were questioned and 14 police files were transferred to the State Attorney’s Office.

According to the voluntary organization Kav La’Oved – Workers Hotline, Thai work a minimum of 12 to 15 hours each day in the fields due to their employers’ shortage of manpower. Foreign workers are not supposed to be on the job for more than 45 hours a week. In addition, medical care for immediate symptoms and complications from Yaba use is minimal.

The Knesset researchers who conducted interviews suggested that since Yaba has not spread so far to Israelis, fighting its smuggling and use has not been a high priority among authorities.

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