Thirty million flowers that were supposed to reach the European market in time for Christmas remained in Israel due to a shortage of workers to harvest the plants, Israel’s Flower Growers Association announced on Wednesday.

The failure to transfer all the expected flower supplies to Europe is causing Israel to continue to lose its place in the European market – a sector that the country once dominated, the association lamented.

While Kenya and Ethiopia have been occupying chunks of the market for some time now, a brand new competitor entered this holiday season: Costa Rica. The Central American nation, which formerly limited its flower sales largely to US markets, was able to provide the European sector with green ornamental branches for Christmas that were once considered an Israeli specialty, the association said.

Israeli farmers are now unable to maintain their traditional markets when the government “binds their hands behind their backs and devotedly maintains a chronic shortage of workers,” according to Haim Hadad, secretary-general of Israel’s Flower Growers Association.

While Israel’s farmers have been promised by the government to have 25,000 foreign workers available, the association claims that in reality there only about 20,000. The result, the association said, is that while competitors enjoy an endless supply of low-cost workers, the Israeli flower growers must operate without a crucial portion of their work force and with unnecessary and inflated tax payments on those who do work.

In November, the government made an additional decision to maintain that 25,000- worker figure for the year 2013, allowing for 24,000 long-term foreign workers, 1,000 seasonal staff and 2,000 work permits for Palestinians.

The 2012 figures were 25,400 until the month of September, and then were reduced to 24,400 for the remainder of the year, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Delineating the number of workers permitted is the role of the government at large, and the Agriculture Ministry does not have the authority to allocate how many workers are allowed to come in or be employed, a ministry spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post.

“It is absurd that during a period in which we hear about a drop in state revenues and a tremendous deficit that will cause cuts to the public,” Hadad said, “the prime minister, ministers and officials deliberately harm manufacturers and exporters who request nothing but the workers that are authorized to them, in order to increase state revenues.”

The labor shortage hits particularly hard during peak periods when the need for flowers is high, the organization stressed. With the end of Christmas, the Flower Growers Association found that 15 percent of the Israeli flowers slated to go to Europe (30 million out of 200 million) remained in the country because there were not enough workers to pick and pack them. Now, the farmers will have to send the flowers during a period of much slower demand, receiving lower prices for the plants, according to Hadad.

“I fully understand customers in Europe that are discouraged by us and prefer to turn to other countries from which they have a guaranteed, reliable delivery, even though they are farther than us from the market,” Hadad added.

“Now the damage already done will be very hard to repair in the future because all the shelf space has been taken from us and will not be returned easily, and may be lost forever.”

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