Farmers say they’ll strike despite Steinitz assurances

Strike being held in protest of govt. policy; shortage will be felt beginning Monday, farmers say, and consumer prices expected to increase.

By RON FRIEDMAN
November 22, 2010 03:53
4 minute read.
Arava farmers demonstrate for foreign workers

Farmers protest 311. (photo credit: Gilad Livni)

Despite assurances by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Sunday afternoon that, if necessary, he would allow the import of additional foreign workers for the agricultural sector, the farmers’ strike is carrying on as planned. Starting Monday, the wholesale markets will be closed to all fresh agricultural produce, with the shortage expected to hit the supermarkets starting Wednesday.

The strike hinges on countering claims between the farmers and the government regarding the number of foreign workers currently employed in the agriculture sector in relation to quota agreements signed by the two sides in May 2009. The agreement stipulated that there would be an annual reduction of 2,000 workers from the initial quota in exchange for government aid earmarked for laborreducing technology in the agricultural sector.

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“Contrary to the claims of the farmers, the government is abiding by its agreement with the farmers’ representatives. As was agreed upon, 26,000 permits to employ foreign workers for the agriculture sector were issued in 2010. The farmers, for their own reasons, chose to only bring in 24,000 foreign workers,” read a statement by the Finance Ministry.

“In a recent meeting with the farmers’ representatives, it was agreed that a joint crew would be set up to investigate, within two weeks, the gaps between the sides and also investigate other steps to aid the farmers. In light of this constructive meeting, we can do nothing but regret that the farmers decided to carry on with the three-day strike, which will cause unnecessary harm to the Israeli public.

“I won’t fall for a cat in a bag.

The government promised us the workers a year and a half ago and never delivered. Why should we believe them now?” asked Avshalom Vilan, secretary general of the Israeli Farmers Federation.

“The strike has begun and will continue for the next three days.

Unless the government can find a way to bring 4,000 workers in the next two days, we won’t change our decision.”

The strike, first announced two weeks ago, will manifests in a marketing freeze on all local fresh agricultural produce, including fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, flowers, meat and poultry.

Though facing financial losses, the farmers are united in their desire to pressure the government into meeting their demands for more foreign workers for the sector.

On Sunday, the last new shipments were brought to the wholesale markets, before carrying on to the groceries, supermarket chains and other bulk buyers around the country. Sunday’s shipments were larger than usual in order to make sure that shortages would be kept to a minimum. Since the retailers can store fresh produce for several days before it starts going bad, it is anticipated that shortages and the accompanying price hikes will only be felt on Wednesday, with the strike scheduled to end and new goods brought to the markets early Thursday morning.

“This is a warning strike targeting the government, not the public. Had we wanted to create a stark shortage in food, we would have planned a surprise strike, leaving the retailers and the public with no options to store up on our products. As it is, we gave sufficient prior warning to avert major food shortages,” said Vilan.

Aside from freezing the food shipments, the strike will also include protests by farmers at major intersections across the country. According to Fruit Growers Association secretary general Ilan Eshel, the farmers want to raise awareness of their plight in the general public and will be handing out flowers, fruit and informational pamphlets to the passersby.

In the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) of the Interior Ministry, the government agency responsible for issuing and enforcing foreign workers’ permits, the sentiment is that that they have done everything possible to accommodate the farmers, but that the farmers themselves failed to apply for new workers. A statement issued by PIBA spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said that according to their information, only 1,4000 workers were missing from the quota and that the reason they were missing was that the farmers failed to apply for the permits.

“The farmers’ claims are baseless and do not reflect the intensive steps taken by the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, headed by Amnon Ben-Ami, in recent weeks and months to find solutions to the farmers’ plights,” read the statement.

“The discussions with the farmers and the Agriculture Ministry have carried on until recent days, despite announcements issued by the farmers’ representatives calling on their members not to cooperate with the authority and government agencies.

In light of the above, it is clear that the authority acted vigorously in order to fulfill the agreement as stipulated, met all of its commitments and went above and beyond in order to help the farmers.”


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