The Chamber of Commerce warned the Knesset Control Committee on Tuesday that
government plans to bring thousands of skilled construction workers from
Bulgaria and Romania could damage Israel’s relations with China.
of Commerce Vice-President attorney Dan Carmeli said that the Chinese ambassador
has held several meetings recently with Chamber of Commerce President Uriel
Lynn, in which the Chinese declared their willingness to enter into negotiations
to bring construction workers into Israel.
The Chinese have already
prepared a draft agreement with Israel on the issue, Carmeli noted.
in August, Lin expressed his opposition to the inter-ministerial committee’s
decision to bring Sri Lankan workers to Israel, partly on the grounds that the
move would damage relations between Israel and China.
“Israel is trying
not to implement government decisions, by turning the state into a manpower
agency,” said Carmeli.
The State Control Committee convened its second
meeting to discuss the inter-ministerial committee’s decision to import
construction workers from Sri Lanka to Israel, a move which goes against the
government’s decision to bring workers from Romania and Bulgaria.
at the meeting were representatives from various government ministries,
including the Construction and Housing and Foreign Ministries, as well as from
contractors, manpower, and social organizations, including workers’ rights NGO
Kav LaOved (“Worker’s Hotline”).
As the country faces the twin pressures
of a housing shortage and soaring real estate prices, the government and
building contractors want to bring 8,000 construction workers to Israel to build
residential units across the country, increasing the housing supply.
the start of the meeting, Housing Ministry representative Yossi Shevet said that
the government has already begun talks with the Bulgarian authorities, and had
signed a preliminary agreement with that country. The government plans to sign a
similar agreement with Romania and possibly Hungary, Shevet noted.
government delegation is currently in Bulgaria to discuss the bilateral
agreement between the two countries, according to Racheli Shani, who attended
the meeting on behalf of the Foreign Ministry.
Shani said that the
process would be completed in “a few weeks,” barring any objections from
However, the government’s move to sign bilateral agreements
with Romania and Bulgaria over foreign workers has drawn criticism from several
However, the move to import skilled construction workers from
Eastern Europe and Sri Lanka has drawn criticism from several
While the Chamber of Commerce warned of possible damage to
Sino-Israeli relations, the Union of Professional Construction Personnel
Companies (UPCPC), accused the state of charging workers exorbitant fees while
claiming to protect their rights.
Eldad Nitzan, UPCPC chairman, claimed
workers are charged around $3,000 in fees to come to Israel.
Lebovitch, representing Kav LaOved, also told the meeting that Chinese workers
currently pay high fees to work in Israel and added that those fees are not
connected to their profession or particular skills.
According to Kav
LaOved, foreign workers pay exorbitant fees to brokers or employment agencies to
arrange their work in Israel and ensure that they receive residency
Notably, in 2006, Kav LaOved filed a High Court of Justice
petition against the state, claiming that the government had failed to prevent
contractors from taking hefty fees from foreign workers. That petition is still
Control Committee Chairman MK Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) said that
the government needed to take into account contractors’ demands and also should
allow social organizations to take part in discussions over bilateral
“It is the state’s responsibility to combat the phenomenon of
brokers who charge workers exorbitant fees, and contractors and social NGOs must
be involved in the solution,” said Bar-On. “Agreements with Bulgaria, Romania
and Hungary are important, and must be signed quickly because any delay could
lead to new problems.”
Attorney Tehila Logar of the Interior Ministry’s
Legal Department claimed in response that the government is trying to eradicate
the fee system by signing the bilateral agreements.
In response to
criticism from the ACMC’s legal adviser, attorney Doron Taubman, who said the
association was “unwilling to give up selecting its own employees directly,”
which he added would be a concern if the government was responsible for
importing foreign workers, Logar said the bilateral agreements would help bring
skilled construction workers to Israel.
“We are doing everything we can
to bring to Israel only those workers whose professional skills match the sector
in which they want to work,” said Logar, adding that the manpower contractors’
role “is only to employ workers once they are in Israel, not bring them into the
Several members of the Control Committee also expressed some
opposition to the government’s scheme.
Control Committee member MK Marina
Solodkin (Kadima) said that she was opposed to bringing foreign workers into
Israel, and added that the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor should promote
and encourage the development of skilled Israeli workers.
“I would like
to ask why the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor is not opening schools for
Israeli construction workers,” Solodkin said.
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima)
dubbed Israel’s importing foreign construction workers “a dark world that should
be avoided,” but said it was preferable that the country allow skilled Chinese