Building Supervisors Protest Work Conditions, Drones

YERUSHALAYIM -
A worker seen at the site of newly constructed buildings in the ultra orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak, central Israel. June 09, 2015. Photo by FLASH90
A worker seen at the site of newly constructed buildings in Bnei Brak. (Flash90)

Two contractors who are renovating a building in Bnei Brak were arrested Monday after a concrete column collapsed Sunday at a construction site in Bnei Brak, killing one worker and badly injuring a second. It was the second time in a week that a construction worker died in the city, and building inspectors – overworked and underpaid, they say – are getting tired of doing a job that doesn’t seem to be having any effect. The two contractors are being charged with negligence, as police seek to crack down on contractors who fail to follow safety rules.

In charge of enforcing those rules is a cadre of building inspectors who work for the Welfare and Housing Ministries, but in a letter to Welfare Minister Chaim Katz and Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn, the director of safety in the Welfare Ministry said that workers were frustrated at the conditions of their employment, and at their inability to correct problems. Resources were extremely limited; for example, two years after inspectors were promised 16 new vehicles to carry out inspections, only three have materialized. “As a result, we are being asked to file the paperwork for these vehicles a second time, but meanwhile we do our job in our own cars, at our own expense, to visit faraway building sites,” the letter said. “Of course we are responsible for the damage to our own vehicles under these circumstances.”

One suggestion made by Katz has been to use drones to conduct inspections, to save the Ministry time and money – and workers, naturally, are against the idea. “Maybe eventually drones will be able to examine the 30,000 building sites that get licenses to build annually, and to thoroughly inspect 200,000 elevator shafts, but until that happens, we are doing the job, but we will not continue to do it for the low salary and long hours we face,” the letter said.

After long appeals, the workers have given up, the letter said – and from now on, will knock off at 5 p.m. In addition, they said, they would no longer use their vehicles for inspecting sites beyond the bare minimum they are compensated for. The result, they said will he “a dramatic slowdown in the rate of the distribution of permits and injury to small and medium sized businesses because of the onerous situation we find ourselves in.” The lack of manpower and lack of resources was what was endangering construction workers, the letter added. Without such resources, “construction sites will remain unsupervised, and companies will continue to sneak out of taking responsibility for the situation.”

Katz’s office said it was “studying” the complaints, but that the Minister looked askance at the workers’ choice to complain directly to the media, sending their letter to media outlets before sending it to his office. “If this is the way the inspectors think they are going to improve their salaries and work conditions, good luck to them,” Katz’s office said in a statement.