Katz: Israeli construction workers must be trained

Foreign Workers Committee chair says this must happen before planned expulsion of foreign laborers in 2012.

construction good 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
construction good 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel must train local laborers to fill construction jobs currently held by foreign workers or face further housing shortages and rising housing costs, warned Knesset Foreign Workers Committee chairman MK Ya'acov Katz (National Union) Wednesday. Hours later, the Finance Ministry released details of its newest proposal that would crack down on the employment of illegal foreign workers in Israel.
During the Knesset committee hearing, attendees discussed the subject of training Israeli workers in construction jobs often performed by foreign or Palestinian laborers. They noted that work in certain construction-related fields was almost exclusively done by non-Israeli citizens.
Training workers in the construction sector is particularly urgent due to a government decision that by 2012, all foreign construction workers must leave the country. Without local laborers, warned Katz, Israel's ravenous housing industry could face a building slow-down which would lead to higher housing costs.
Every year, noted Katz in his summary of the hearing, Israel suffers from a 25 percent shortfall in housing units built. An estimated 30,000 units are built per year although the demand is estimated at 40,000 homes.
"It seems absurd that on one hand, the government is freezing building in some parts of the country, while in other parts, we only see building of expensive, luxury projects. We must find a solution to the housing shortage," Katz told The Jerusalem Post.
In light of recent reports that the Israeli birthrate is rising, and because of the "expectation that many Jews will immigrate to Israel in the coming years," Katz said that the demand for affordable housing in Israel would continue to rise, with or without a trained work force. He added that the committee would work to initiate legislation that would immediately establish a government-funded system of training for Israeli construction workers.
Among the participants in the meeting were representatives from the Defense, Finance, and Construction and Housing Ministries, as well as from the government employment services, the Histadrut labor organization, and the Contractors' Association.
Katz said, however, that Shalom Ben-Menashe, the representative of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, did not attend the session, nor did any of the other five MKs who sit on the committee. During the hearing, a number of government representatives claimed that the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor was in fact responsible for placing bureaucratic delays on proposed projects to train Israeli workers.
Katz promised that an additional committee meeting would be held to look into whether the ministries have advanced their inter-ministerial cooperation on the subject, and said that next time, he would invite the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer himself.
Meanwhile Wednesday, the Finance Ministry submitted a plan to the government that would further crack down on the estimated 125,000 illegal foreign workers residing in Israel. According to the plan, which is slated to be discussed during the government meeting this coming Sunday, any person found to be employing an illegal worker would be fined a minimum of NIS 10,000 and would face criminal indictment. A company found to be employing an illegal worker would face a minimum fine of NIS 25,000.
But the penalties would not end there. Any person found to be employing an illegal foreign worker would lose the right to employ any foreign workers at all, and the new plan would also bring in the Tax Authority as an additional executive authority regarding businesses that hire illegal workers. If the plan is approved, salaries paid to illegal workers will not be recognizable for tax purposes as a business expense and those found to have employed illegal workers will face special tax reviews.
The plan does, however, include carrots as well as sticks for the illegal foreign workers themselves. The new law would require that nursing-aid workers have their pension plans paid out to them immediately upon finishing their assignment, and would also significantly increase prison sentences imposed on "middlemen" illegally charging the workers fees for arranging their employment.
In addition, a placement database will be established for nursing aids who arrived in the country legally but have lost their place of employment, or who are employed in a manner not specified in their permit. The new law would require the permit to specify the field of employment for which the permit is granted, putting an end to workers who come to Israel for work in one sector, but eventually are employed in another.