A shortage of foreign and Palestinian construction workers will double the construction time for housing projects and result in higher apartment prices, the Association of Contractors and Builders in Israel said Wednesday.
"The Finance Ministry mistakenly believes that cutting down on Palestinian and foreign workers, who today do the hard work in the construction sector, will lead to an increase in the number of Israelis employed in the sector. But the very opposite is true," association president Nissim Bublil said.
"The painful reality shows that Israelis, and a large number of Arabs, are not interested in working in the hard and difficult jobs in the construction sector," he said. "And this will not change even if the number of foreign and Palestinian workers is reduced or fees for employing these workers is raised. The only result will be an increase in the price of apartments."
The Finance Ministry has been implementing steps to cut back on the number of foreign workers and encourage Israelis to work in their place, in response to the country's rising unemployment and economic downturn.
The construction sector employs 170,000 Israeli workers and 23,000 foreign and Palestinian workers. Foreign construction workers may only be employed via licensed manpower companies that specialize in construction work. The list of these manpower companies is approved by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, which also allocates work permits.
The association said there was a shortage of about 10,000 workers in the construction sector and called upon the government to increase the quota of Palestinian workers.
During the 1990s, when more foreign workers were employed in the industry, average construction time for an apartment was 12 months, while today it is 25 months, according to the association.
The Association of Contractors and Builders in Israel said it has been cooperating with the construction workers' union and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry in recent months to train released soldiers and Israelis for construction work.
"Until now, only very few workers have been able to be recruited by construction companies," Bublil said. "The trial [program] shows that they are having difficulties in coping with the hard work and are either switching to other jobs in the industry or leaving the sector altogether."
Land tenders would be offered to relieve the shortage of housing units on the market, Housing and Construction Minister Arial Attias said Wednesday.
"Thousands more residential units can be put on the market," he said. "We will put 6,000 apartments on sale at the end of the year - 2,000 of them in areas of high demand. Thousands more will go on the market next year, in addition to the current tenders. All of this is with one aim in mind: to lower the price of housing."
The Manpower Professional Israel Index, which is based on the Employment Service's quarterly survey of job-vacancy advertisements in the Hebrew press, was published Wednesday and showed that demand for new workers in the construction sector rose 10.7% in November, the highest increase of all sectors. Overall demand for workers dropped 5.3%, after rising 11.2% in October.