Histadrut Chief: Keep Chinese Construction Workers Out

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a letter to government officials, Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn demanded that a plan to bring thousands of Chinese construction workers to Israel be canceled — and if it isn’t, the national labor union would declare a work dispute, leading to an eventual strike, over the issue.

The government last month finalized the deal to import some 6,000 construction workers from China, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a deal on the former’s recent visit to Beijing. Negotiations for the deal have been going on for years. Both Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon say that the workers are necessary in order to fill jobs that are currently unfilled. Without more foreign workers, the two say, many of the projects needed to alleviate Israel’s housing shortage will not get off the ground.

But for Nissenkorn, the importation of Chinese workers portends a labor problem. In the letter, quoted by TheMarker, Nissenkorn tells Netanyahu, Kahlon and Housing Minister Yoav Galant that the agreement contains a section that will allow for the importation of skilled building laborers, including electricians, plumbers and others — and not just hired hands for construction work. Nissenkorn fears that contractors will use this section of the deal to bring in cheaper foreign labor to replace Israelis.

“Wholesale importation of foreign workers for these jobs, which are today filled by thousands of local workers, is likely to greatly lower the standards of labor, and harm the safety of construction workers,” besides “creating severe and irreversible damage to the salaries and job prospects of Israelis, which in turn will further discourage young people from learning the construction trade. Instead of looking for short-term patches, the government ought to be developing a professional training plan that will provide the economy with the necessary workers,” the letter said.

Nissenkorn did not say when a work dispute would be declared, but stressed that the union would act in advance of the arrival of the Chinese workers. “The section of the agreement in question is in direct contradiction to promises by the government, and could cause major damage to the job security of many Israelis in the building trades,” the letter added. “We will not sit by and accept this.”