Steinitz: We need haredim and Arabs in workforce

Situation will be a ‘catastrophe within 10 years’ if there’s no change now.

yuval steinitz 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yuval steinitz 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The full integration of haredim and Israeli Arabs into the workforce is critical for the future of the economy, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday.
“The economy might be able to grow over the next two, three or five years if we don’t deal with the incorporation of haredim and Arabs... into the labor market. But without a change now, within 10 years the situation will be a catastrophe,” he said at the Caesarea Economic Policy Planning Forum, organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, in Nazareth.
“We are working on a basket of measures to deal with the labor participation of these two sectors and to narrow the employment of illegal foreign workers in Israel,” Steinitz said.
“It is a critical issue, which will help to open up new jobs for Israelis and increase salaries in a number of fields.”
He said the lack of industry, tourism and services in Arab localities was another issue the government needed to address.
Steinitz said it was important to recruit haredi men and women into the labor market when they turn 22, when many of them already have two children, instead of waiting until they are 35 or 40, as it is the case today, when it is hard for them to find a job with a decent salary.
As part of the Finance Ministry’s efforts to encourage haredim to join the workforce, Steinitz said he planned to submit an amendment to the Tal Law that would exempt haredim who are age 22 with at least two children from army service, which would allow them to work.
“If haredim don’t serve in the army in greater numbers, it won’t have an impact on Israel’s capability to protect itself,” Steinitz said. “But if haredim don’t significantly boost their participation in the labor force, we will face a critical problem in the future. The integration of the haredi public is essential for the continued development of the economy.”
Haredim are currently exempt from army service if they are 31 or have at least five children.
“It is our task to turn Israel into a more equal society, and time is running out,” Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry director- general Sharon Kedmi said at the conference. “In five years’ time about 50 percent of first-grade pupils will be from the haredi and non-Jewish communities, and if we don’t address this scenario, it will have a negative effect on the employment rate.
“More than ever we need to remove obstacles and provide the tools and adopt the workplace environment for these communities, who want to work, whether by providing professional training and higher education or day-care centers.”
Dr. Yosef Jabareen, of the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, said the question of labor participation of the Arab sector and participation of the haredi sector could not be dealt with in the same manner because the problems are different.
“Arab society in Israel seeks work and wants to learn and study, which is the main difference with the haredi population,” he said at the conference.
“The lost potential to Israel’s economy as a result of the failure to utilize the potential of the 1.5 million Arab male and female workers amounts to NIS 31 billion a year.”
In five years, if the government doesn’t intervene in boosting Arab employment, Jabareen said, the number of unemployed Arab graduates would reach 30,000 instead of the current 13,500.
According to research presented at the conference, 59% of Jews and 42% of Israeli Arabs participate in the workforce, and only 1% of the employees in the hi-tech industry are Arab.