China Israel flags.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The government on Sunday approved an agreement with China that will pave the way for bringing thousands of Chinese construction workers to Israel, even though wording in the agreement makes clear they will not be employed beyond the Green Line.
According to briefing material given to the ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Israel and China shall “take reasonable steps to jointly protect the personal safety of Chinese employees during their employment in Israel, and for this purpose the parties agree that Chinese employees recruited under the present agreement shall work in areas of Israel designated and agreed upon by the parties from time to time.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon lauded the agreement as a critical component of his overall plan to solve Israel’s housing crisis and expedite the construction of apartments around the country.
“We are talking about thousands of workers who will help a construction industry in great need of manpower” and “accelerate the pace of construction in Israel,” Kahlon said.
Settlement leaders opposed the agreement, saying that the housing crisis is acute on both sides of the Green Line, and that not enabling Chinese workers to build in the settlements discriminates unfairly against Jews living there.
This agreement “distinguishes between Efrat and Holon” and “Shiloh and Bat Yam,” said Efrat Council head Oded Revivi, who is also the chief foreign envoy for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
He added that it deprives Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria of their equal rights, and will cause delays in construction projects in those communities, which are already held up for security reasons.
The agreement with China is the outgrowth of negotiations that went on for 18 months.
Representatives of the Finance and Construction ministries agreed with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing in February on the wording of an accord that would bring some 6,000 Chinese construction workers to Israel within six months.
The Finance Ministry issued a statement at the time saying that one of the main goals of the agreement was to eliminate brokerage fees and the possibility of human trafficking, and that it was designed to ensure supervision of the entire process from the time the workers depart China, until they leave Israel at the end of the term of their employment.
In September 2015, the cabinet approved a plan to bring in 20,0000 Chinese construction workers. However, then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein opposed the move, concerned that the workers would be exploited by middlemen because there was no formal agreement on the matter between the two countries.
The briefing material said that the agreement “is intended to regulate a bilateral framework for bringing foreign workers from China to work temporarily in Israel. The recruitment arrangements in the agreement were intended to allow Chinese workers to enter Israel in accordance with the principles of legality, transparency and the struggle against illegal recruitment practices, while preventing unlawful brokerage fees from employees directly or indirectly in both countries.”
There were an estimated 235,000 construction workers in the country in 2016, of which an estimated 42,000 were Palestinians, 3,500 from China, 2,800 from Moldavia, 1,000 from Bulgaria, and a few from Romania.
The agreement is expected to join several other such agreements signed in recent years with Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, to bring construction workers to Israel, the Finance Ministry statement said. These agreements were signed following a 2011 government decision that enabled the protection of the rights of these workers.
Meanwhile, a Finance Ministry report published on Sunday indicated a dramatic cooling in the country’s residential real estate market.
In February 2017, the total number of transactions in this market amounted to only 8,800 apartments – a 9% drop compared to the previous month, according to a weekly survey published by the ministry’s chief economist. Since August 2015, only during the High Holy Day months has there been a lower level of transactions, the report said.
“An analysis of these findings shows that the low level of transactions is explained by the continuing trend of a sharp decline in the purchase of new apartments,” the chief economist wrote.
All in all, only 1,900 new apartments were sold in February – a 16% drop in comparison to the previous month, the report said.Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.