Farmers who use Israeli labor: Gov’t ‘punishing’ us

Agriculture Ministry awarded farmers to replace workers with machinery.

FOREIGN WORKERS 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In an effort to reduce the farming sector’s dependency on foreign workers, the Agriculture Ministry signed an agreement with the Israeli Farmers Federation last year, awarding every farmer who replaced workers with labor-saving machinery a grant from the ministry worth 40 percent of the cost of the equipment. Today, farmers who employ only Israeli workers feel they are being “punished,” as they are not eligible for the grants.
“This is an absurd situation. Farmers who for years paid extra for local workers, in spite of harsh economic pressures to replace them with cheap Thai workers, are being punished because they don’t have anyone to fire,” said Dubi Kadishai, director of Ardom, a consortium that combines the agricultural activities of several southern Arava kibbutzim and moshavim.
“Though they could have hired foreign workers like their neighbors did, a handful of farmers, for ideological reasons, chose to employ only Israelis.
Now they feel like suckers,” said Kadishai.
“Farmers in places like Yotvata and Samar, who grow dates for export and have always employed kibbutz members or Beduin from the region, felt sure that they would also receive grants, since they were in sync with the government’s objective to begin with. Now they are being told by the ministry that since they weren’t reducing demands for foreign worker permits, they would not be receiving any grants,” Kadishai went on.
“What do they have to do, hire and then fire workers just so they can be eligible? Frankly I’m surprised by the ministry’s attitude. We’re talking about peanuts in terms of the overall cost of the project.”
Uri Oren, a dairy farmer from Alon Hagalil in the Lower Galilee, has woken up at 4:30 a.m. every day for the past 30 years so he can milk his cows before going to his other job as a management consultant. He never employed foreign workers, even though he said he could use all the help he could get. He said that he would have liked to purchase a type of robot that mechanically milks the cows, but he couldn’t afford it.
“There are machines that can replace nearly every kind of agricultural task, but they all cost lots of money.
Farmers, especially small, independent farmers, need all the help they can get.
It’s too bad that the ministry put restrictions in place that stop everyone from receiving help,” said Oren.
Ilan Eshel, general manager of the Fruit Growers Association, said that the deprivation of those he characterized as the idealist farmers was insufferable and sent the wrong message to the public.
“Numerically, these farmers make up a tiny fraction of the sector and are insignificant in terms of budgeting, but for the farmers this is crucial assistance to help them upgrade their machinery,” said Eshel.
“For years, these farmers were an inspiration, employing students and local Arabs, Druse and Jews for harvest.
The current policy is a slap in the face for them,” said Eshel.
In response, Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Dafna Yurista said that the NIS 250 million budget set aside for the grants was designated to enable farmers to adjust to the new conditions of labor shortages.
“Farmers who didn’t employ foreign workers, but rather Israelis, are not required to adjust to new circumstances, suffer no labor shortage and thus are ineligible for the grants,” said Yurista.
“We understand their feelings, but not every program is suitable for everybody.
True, they were admirable and we respect them for it, but on the other hand they have it easier now, because they aren’t being required to cut back on workers,” Yurista said. “In any case, these farmers are eligible for other, albeit lower grants for technological development, and I urge them to apply.”