After years of negotiations and dozens of tragic accidents, crane operators at construction sites in Israel have signed a new contract raising their salary and, perhaps more important, obligating contractors and employers to institute new safety protocols. The minimum wage for crane operators will now be NIS 49 per hour, and will cover some 1,200 operators.
The contract has been under operation for years, but the impetus for overcoming the final hurdles was the recent resignation of 250 operators due to safety issues. That occurred in January, and several weeks later a work dispute was declared. After three crane accidents in a single week in February, the Histradrut labor union announced that all crane operators in Israel would go on a “warning” strike, with the union saying that it would take more aggressive action if negotiations did not progress on improving their work conditions.
“Over 400 workers lost their lives operating cranes over the last decade, in a profession that has become the most dangerous in Israel,” said Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn after the accidents. “We have had enough of the cheapening of human life. A lack of safety enforcement and a casual attitude to enforcing safety rules are just symptoms of a totally unregulated industry, where most workers are employed based on individual contracts and do not have rights that union members do. The workers who are building the country are endangering their lives and cannot earn enough money to pay their bills.”
Besides a basic salary that increases with experience, workers will also be eligible for a special fund that will provide extra income in the case of an injury. If a national emergency such as a war is declared, the workers will get an extra NIS 4 per hour.
In addition, safety conditions will be increased for workers. Standards for licensing and inspection of cranes will be increased, and a standard will be set for the basic life-saving equipment that must be on site.
Commenting on the agreement, Nissenkorn said that “this is the first step in a long march towards increased safety in the construction profession. This agreement provides a measure of historical justice for crane operators in this most challenging profession, which dictates safety issues at building sites. These workers are deserving of a salary and conditions that match the efforts they put in to the job.”