Court stalls expulsion of 3,000 Chinese workers

Petitions claim expulsion violates the workers’ rights.

The Jerusalem District Court for Administrative Matters ordered on Thursday a temporary injunction on the state’s decision to expel 3,000 foreign construction workers by the end of June. The injunction followed petitions issued to the court by the workers and their employers claiming that the expulsion violated the workers’ rights and also that it would cause grievous harm to the construction sector.
The petition filed by the employees claims that the expulsion violated agreements between the state and the workers, 99 percent of whom are Chinese nationals, who had come to Israel assuming that they would be allowed to stay and work for the duration of their permit, roughly five years.
The plaintiffs claim that the expulsion violates sovereign assurances given to them by the state and that the en masse expulsion ignores the workers’ individual rights.
Earlier this week the Contractors Association joined the injunction request, claiming that the expulsion of 3,000 workers would cause harm to its members who would be unable to complete projects due to lack of workers.
The temporary injunction will be in place until July 1, when the court will hold proceedings on the legality of the government decision.
The government decision to reduce the number of foreign workers in the construction sector from 8,000 to 5,000 is part of its overall plan to end the employment of foreign workers in Israel altogether, a plan that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Shteinitz, have characterized as essential for the Israeli economy. The plan calls for a gradual reduction of foreign workers by the end of 2012 and Israel stopped importing new workers in 2009.
On the basis of this plan, 3,000 foreign workers who renewed their work visas in 2010, discovered that the visas were set to expire on June 30th instead of at the end of the year. The remaining 5,000 workers’ visas expire in December.
According to Dana Shaked, Chinese workers coordinator at Kav L’Oved, foreign workers explained that those who had been in Israel upwards of three years were given visas until June, while the others had been given visas for the whole year.
Shaked said that workers who come from China pay upwards of $30,000 for a permit to work in Israel. ”It takes them two years just to pay off the loans they took out to finance the permits. They depend on their license to work here for the full five-year duration of their permit for their livelihood,” said Shaked.“Nobody told them that they might have to leave before their permits were up.”
While the contractors association only joined the petition recently, they have been conducting a media campaign to have the Chinese workers stay for the last three weeks. They claim that the Chinese workers are vital for the sector and that the loss of 3,000 of them would both delay existing projects and increase housing costs in the future.
The contractors claim that Israelis are simply unwilling to perform thetasks currently done by foreign workers, despite their efforts to trainand hire them.
In an interview for Globes, Ronen Ginsburg,director-general of Dnaya Cebus, a large construction firm, said“Unfortunately there has yet to be invented a technological solution toreplace laborers in construction jobs like molding, plastering,metalwork and flooring. It’s super-duper hard work. Flooring demandsthat workers spend up to 12 hours a day on their knees, sometimes intemperatures that exceed 40 degrees. Israelis refuse to do it. They’respoiled. They prefer to work in the hi-tech sector or in management.”
The spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior’s Population, Immigrationand Borders Authority  – the agency charged with executing theexpulsion – said that the expulsion was a government decision and thatthe authority would act in accordance to what the government decided.