The Israeli Farmers Federation (IFF) announced Wednesday that it intends to hold a general strike and block the flow of all agricultural produce to local markets for two days, to protest the government’s refusal to allow 4,000 additional workers from Thailand to enter the country.

According to IFF secretary-general Avshalom Vilan, the association will hold a general meeting on Sunday to decide the exact scope and timing of the strike, but it is expected to go into effect on Thursday, November 18.

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Vilan said that the two-day strike would be a warning to the government and would be repeated and extended unless the government abided by the terms of an agreement it signed with the IFF last year and immediately begin flying in the missing workers.

“A year ago the IFF signed a deal with the government that would see a gradual decrease in the amount of foreign workers permits given to farmers, in exchange for grants to introduce labor-saving technology, but what happened is that the decline wasn’t gradual at all and now we find ourselves short between 4,000 and 5,000 workers,” said Vilan.

“According to the agreement in 2010 there should be 26,000 workers here, but in actuality there are only 21,500 and the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority won’t allow any more in.”

According to Vilan, egg and dairy farmers would also freeze shipments to the markets, in an act of solidarity with the fruit and vegetable growers.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this week, fruit growers association director, Ilan Eshel said the farmers had reached a point where there was no other option but to resort to drastic measures.

“We are desperate and there is no other way,” he said. “The farmers will lose income because of the strike, but at this stage they feel that they have no other choice and would rather lose money in the short term than gradually collapse completely due to lack of workers.”

Aharon Barazani from the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said the government cannot import additional workers from Thailand unless the Thai government signs an agreement with Israel under the auspices of the International Organization for Migration, which would regulate the workers’ employment.

Last year, the farmers staged major protests all across the country over the same issue, with the struggle culminating in a tractor convoy to Jerusalem and a mass demonstration in front of the Knesset.

As a result of the protest the government agreed, in May, to import 3,700 additional workers, but with workers regularly leaving due to expired work permits, shortages still exist.

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