The Israeli cabinet in September finalized a decisoin to bring in workers from China in help fast-track the building of new homes, a move that trade unions and human rights organizations in both Israel and China are now demanding be annulled.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Workers Advice Center trade union, the Workers Hotline and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) argue deal was approved without the precondition of a bilateral trade agreement, which would be overseen by the International Organization for Migration – and provide for better protection of migrant workers’ rights.
“The deal, as it stands, will allow Israel to recruit 20,000 Chinese construction workers via private recruitment agencies,” according to a joint statement from the groups. “In order to pay the exorbitant commissions charged by these agencies, Chinese workers will have to commit to massive loans before entering the country,” it notes, “making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abusive employment practices, without protection under Israeli labor law.”
According to Workers Hotline, as of 2013 there were more than 69,000 authorized migrant workers in Israel and “14,800 workers who had visas but lost their legal status.” In addition, there are more than 90,000 migrants who entered Israel as tourists but have not left.
While migrant workers do enjoy some legal protections, the group says the authorities “do not enforce the law and turn a blind eye to their abuse, extortion and fraud during their recruitment and the process of bringing them to Israel.”
Israel has one of the highest number of migrant workers per capita in the world.
| Photo: AFP
Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, also criticized the deal between the two nations, saying the lack of a bilateral trade agreement between them could lead to migrant workers paying middlemen hundreds or even thousands of U.S. dollars to obtain work permits.
Israeli workers’ rights organizations also maintain that the move will take away employment opportunities from working-class Israelis.
The price of property in Israel has skyrocketed in recent years due to a short supply of homes and a growing population, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arguing the migrant deal is "a necessary and important step to lower housing prices."
The Justice Ministry’s Chief Government Assessors Department in a statement issued last month said prices across the country increased by 6 percent over the last year.
Israel’s construction sector employs approximately 216,000 workers, including including 37,000 Palestinians, 3,700 Chinese and thousands more from Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria. However, previous deals to bring in migrant workers involved bilateral agreements between the guest workers’ countries and Israel.
Israel’s human rights record was called into question earlier this year when a report from Human Rights Watch said Thai migrant farm workers were working under conditions that contravene Israeli law.
The report, “A Raw Deal: Abuses of Thai Workers in Israel’s Agricultural Sector,” claimed 25,000 Thai’s working in Israel must tolerate “low pay, excessive working hours, hazardous working conditions and poor housing.”