TA protest slams gov't's 'exploitative' foreign worker policies
Demonstrators: With every deportee, employment agencies make another fee.
By RON FRIEDMAN
Protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Monday to demonstrate against what has been dubbed Israel's "revolving door policy" on migrant workers.
The march, organized by Hadash Tel Aviv and No Deportation, drew roughly 60 people who held banners and handed out flyers in front of the offices of some of the country's largest employment agencies on Rothschild Boulevard.
"Foreign workers are not slaves!" yelled the protesters toward the empty buildings, which during the day house the financing arms of the businesses that demonstrators have claimed make money off the import of migrant workers.
"The employment agencies are the ones that benefit from the government's revolving door policy," said event organizer Noa Levy. "Despite the fact that the law limits them to collecting NIS 3,500 from workers for service fees, these companies charge between $6,000 and $25,000 from every worker they bring in to the country, and rake in 75% of the fee."
Levy added that "most of the workers who are illegal lose their status because of the Immigration Authority's policies. People lose their legal status because they quit their jobs, are fired, get pregnant or get married.
"The government claims that it is deporting illegal migrants because it wants to free up jobs for Israelis, but at the same time issues thousands of visas for new workers from across the sea," Levy went on. "We demand that the government regulate its policies by forming bilateral agreements with other countries, so that the workers don't have to go through the agencies."
No foreign workers attended the protest held in their name. The demonstrators were made up mostly of students and worker's rights advocates.
"Of course they're not here," said Dr. Ephraim Davidi, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. "They're scared that if they're identified as organizers and troublemakers, they'll be deported. Two weeks ago, the Oz Immigration Authority unit raided a demonstration against the deportation of children in Lewinsky Park and arrested 10 people. They know that they're being targeted."
The protesters drew blank stares from passersby on the trendy Tel Aviv street. They had trouble getting their message across after the police requested they stop using a megaphone, claiming they were disturbing the peace.
"This is an issue that has only started receiving attention in the last couple of weeks," said Levy. "But now, after we've seen that public pressure can influence decision-makers, we are determined to get the message out there."
Levy was referring to the government's reversal of two controversial decisions, one on the deportation of children of foreign workers who were born in Israel, and the other on the limitation on asylum-seekers to dwell within set geographic boundaries.
"We came out to show solidarity with the foreign workers," said a man who requested that his name be withheld. "We think the policy is ridiculous. They're turning the workers into scapegoats."
According to Meir Spiegler from the Interior Ministry's Population Administration, there are currently 133 employment agencies that import foreign workers.
During a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers last month, Spiegler said that over the last year, 17 companies had been closed down and 22 were currently under investigation.
Employers wanting to hire foreign workers are required to apply for a permit from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. The permits are issued for a specific sector of employment, according to a quota set by the government every year.
Foreign nationals who come to work in Israel are issued a B-1 visa, good for 54 months, which allows them to work in a particular sector. The government currently issues visas for work in agriculture, ethnic restaurants and caregiving, as well as for people who are designated as experts or specialists in their specific fields.
More than 20,000 people are expected to be deported by the end of the year as part of a government policy to have all migrant workers out of the country by 2013. In 2005 the government expelled 145,000 migrant workers in a campaign similar to the one taking place this summer.
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