‘Foreign workers still here – and they’re still exploited’

Children of foreign workers in Israel (photo credit: Courtesy of 'Israeli Children')
Children of foreign workers in Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy of 'Israeli Children')
Despite the government’s stated intentions, it had not made the necessary changes to reduce Israel’s dependence on foreign workers or improve the working conditions of those that are here, the report found.
Between March and August 2009, the State Comptroller’s Office inspected both the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority in the Interior Ministry and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s special foreign workers unit, to determine whether the actions they had taken and the policies they followed had led to a decrease in the number of foreign workers.
The report presented a regular pattern of government decisions and quotas going unmet, and later being replaced by more lenient ones, resulting in an overall failure to reduce the number of foreign workers.
The report determined that the state had failed to sign a bilateral agreement with the government of Thailand ensuring that all Thai workers would be imported to Israel via the International Organization of Migration, thus doing away with the high commission fees workers are forced to pay employment agencies.
The report found that the foreign workers unit of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry had failed to enforce the working conditions and quotas of foreign workers in farms and had also failed to enforce a government requirement that for every foreign worker permit, the employer would have to hire a matching Israeli worker.
The report stated that the government had not done enough to determine the number of foreign workers already in Israel before bringing in new ones and that the reason for the uncertainty was disagreement between the relevant agencies on how many workers had stayed behind after their work visas expired.
The report stated that those workers should have been placed in jobs before importing new ones.
The report indicated a sharp drop in the number of foreign workers expelled from the country over the last decade. It stated that in the years 2003-2004, 41,000 migrants were expelled, while in the years 2005-2008, only 17,800 were expelled.
The report stated that a 2009 agreement signed among the Agriculture Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Israel Farmers Federation, presented a great step backwards in the expectations of reduced numbers of foreign workers.
Whereas the government adopted a plan that would see fewer than 5,000 foreign workers in the agriculture sector, the new agreement stated there would be a gradual decrease to 18,900 workers until 2015. In exchange the farmers would receive NIS 325 million in grants dedicated to improving labor-saving technologies.
The report stated that in light of the lack of consistency in thegovernment’s decisions regarding foreign-worker quotas, the governmentshould ensure that the grants are only paid if the number of foreignworkers is actually reduced.
The report recommended that all the enforcement powers and agenciesregarding foreign workers should be placed under a single authority andthat communication between the separate agencies be greatly improved.