Chinese agriculture 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) is
embarking on a pilot project that may fundamentally change how foreign workers
are employed in the agriculture sector.
A hundred seasonal workers from
Sri Lanka will land on Wednesday at Ben-Gurion Airport to assist Israeli farmers
for six months, during the seasonal peak.
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The workers and 200 more will
be arriving on government- sponsored flights to participate in the test project
on 80 farms across the country.
Aharon Barazani, senior manager of PIBA’s
permit and payment division, said the pilot initiative grew out of a Bank of
Israel recommendation to replace permanent workers, predominantly from Thailand,
with seasonal workers. It would completely reform current hiring and employment
“The project is being coordinated between the government of
Israel, the government of Sri Lanka and the Geneva-based International
Organization for Migration.
We believe that the involvement of these
three bodies will ensure that some of the practices currently in place –
primarily, the employment agencies charging workers exorbitant commission
charges – will come to a halt,” Barazani said.
He explained that under
the current arrangement, foreign workers are given permits to live and work in
Israel for five years. In contrast, participants in the pilot program will be
given permits for only six months, thus reducing many of the problems that arise
from extended stays.
“The agriculture industry is a cyclical one, which
ebbs and flows according to the seasons of the year. By abridging the time
workers may stay, we focus on the farmers’ actual needs during the peak seasons
and prevent cases of worker transfer [to other employers], which are at the root
of many of the rights abuses in the industry.
“The way it works now is
that once the peak season is over, the farmers have to find alternative tasks
for the workers, and in many cases, hand them over to other farmers who grow
different crops,” said Barazani.
Barazani added that the shorter stays
would also enable the farmers to employ more workers.
“Today, a farmer
may have six workers for a lengthy period of time, but under this pilot – if
successful – the farmer could have 10 workers during the time he really needs
Barazani said that the pilot would be closely monitored by PIBA
and the Bank of Israel, from the moment the workers land, up until the day they
When asked how PIBA would prevent workers staying beyond their
permitted six months, Barazani said responsibility for explaining the laws and
the penalties for overstaying the visa lay with the Sri Lankan government and
the International Organization for Migration, and he hoped that by working with
those bodies, illicit overstays could be prevented.
If the pilot proved
successful, it would be adopted on a larger scale and eventually transform the
way the sector worked, Barazani said.
The announcement of the new project
was welcomed by Haim Hevlin, chairman of the agricultural committee in the
Arava. Hevlin, who is currently fighting PIBA in the Supreme Court over its
refusal to allow in additional Thai workers, said the Sri Lankan solution may
solve the farmers’ shortage of workers in the long run, but did not affect the
“Seasonal workers could prove a good remedy provided they
get here on time, work properly and leave after their permit expires,” Hevlin
He, however, expressed skepticism that the solution would help
salvage the upcoming season, and contends there is a shortfall of 4,000 workers
who are needed on Israeli farms within a month.
Kav LaOved – Workers
Hotline declined to comment on the initiative, saying that further research into
the subject was required. “In any case, we hope that workers rights are
protected,” said the group’s spokeswoman.