In order to undertake ambitious building projects to increase the supply of apartments in Israel and thus reduce the cost of housing, Israel needs more construction workers – and since Israelis are not interested in working for the relatively low wages offered by contractors, the country has turned to foreign countries to supply workers.
But for various reasons, Israel has been having trouble closing deals with the likely suppliers of these workers. China, which the government had been counting on to supply thousands of workers, is determined to ensure that its workers are treated fairly, and negotiations on the rights and obligations of these workers has been slow. In Europe, Moldavia seems to be the most promising source of workers, but the numbers coming from there are small.
For various reasons, the contractors have been having trouble attracting workers from Ukraine and Romania, two other traditional sources of construction workers in Israel. And relations with Turkey have apparently not blossomed sufficiently to merit a permit from the Turkish government for the import of masses of workers.
As a result, there are some 20,000 slots available for foreign construction workers that have not been filled – and to fill them, the government plans a creative “conversion,” according to business daily Calcalist – converting Palestinian workers into “foreign workers” and thus authorizing their entry, beyond the permit levels authorized for Palestinian Authority workers.
There are currently some 37,000 PA construction workers in Israel, a number that is set to grow to 45,000. But with many construction jobs going begging, the government is set to grant permits to an additional 3,500 PA workers to work on construction in Israel – with those permits coming from the ones that the foreign workers are not using.
Sources in the construction industry told Calcalist that members of the industry were opposed to the move. Besides being more productive and working more efficiently and professionally, PA workers are on the job fewer hours, because they need to go through security checks when they enter Israel, and in general are not allowed to remain on premises overnight – meaning another long trip back home after the truncated workday.
The government had no comment on the report.