Agriculture Ministry wants more foreign workers for Gaza border farms

It hopes to bolster the area economically following the recent terrorist shooting of an Ecuadorian volunteer in the fields of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.

worker88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
worker88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Agriculture Ministry has called on the government to increase the number of foreign workers in Gaza Strip periphery communities. It hopes to bolster the area economically following last Tuesday's terrorist shooting of an Ecuadorian volunteer as he worked in Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha's fields. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon will seek government approval on Sunday for a proposal to ensure that Gaza border farms receive 15 percent of all foreign workers in Israel, matching the percentage of workers allocated to communities on the Lebanese border, he said Wednesday in a statement. There are 28,500 foreign workers in the country today; Thais and some Nepalese dominate the agricultural market. "A difficult security situation prevails in the Gaza border region," Simhon said. "As a result, there is a severe shortage of workers in the agricultural sector. This has a major impact on farmers in the area, many of whom grow crops such as vegetables and flowers... which need to be hand-picked." The government was attempting to convince the Thai Embassy to reverse an earlier decision to stop bringing more Thai workers to Moshav Netiv Ha'asara, which borders Gaza, Agriculture Ministry Deputy Director-General Yossi Yishai told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "We haven't seen any foreign workers who don't want to work," he said. "They are committed to the farms. We are attempting to show the Thai Embassy the security measures being taken to protect the workers." Yishai said a government initiative aimed at reducing the number of foreign workers in the country to decrease competition for Israelis was not applicable to the agricultural sector. "Twenty-thousand Israelis are employed in agriculture, but they don't work in the fields to pick produce, or in the hothouses, but rather in professional and managerial positions," he said. "It's very difficult to find Israeli workers for those jobs, so foreign workers don't compete with Israelis here. Their salary is pretty equal to that of Israelis. And we have proven that every foreign workers in agriculture provides four Israelis with employment, in areas such as farming equipment and transport." Eli Rubin, CEO of the Hevel Alon Group, a co-op of growers from 13 kibbutzim (11 of them in the Gaza periphery), welcomed the Agriculture Ministry's initiative. "I don't know if 15% is enough, but this is certainly a good and proper move," he said. "This is a peripheral area. There are no Jews willing to work in these jobs. For many of the moshavim, foreign workers are vital for their economic survival." Rubin called on the government to provide assistance to the area through other means too, including tax reductions, council tax discounts, aid for businesses and help with water supplies. "We live in communities that are almost totally exposed to mortars and Kassams; our life is like Russian roulette," he said. "A Kassam rocket landed near a kindergarten building recently while the children were in the nearby yard. At some point, we are going to run out of miracles. We need help, not slogans, and this is a step in the right direction."