Third-world conditions for employees in Israel

Published: Thu 2 Dec 2010 01:15 PM
Third-world conditions for employees in Israel
Translated by Sol Salbe
At least one Palestinian friend deemed articles about foreign workers in Israel and their plights as irrelevant. I’ve also encountered those who similarly dismiss Israeli industrial issues. The latter were neatly matched by those who see the Histadrut as fighting for the poorest downtrodden. Life isn’t so simple, and as the story below demonstrates, all these strands are intertwined. Whatever else they show -- if bringing workers a continent away to undercut local indigenous workers is part of being a successful first world country then maybe our values need to be reconfigured.
The following is segment of Shuki Tausig’s daily media review for 22 November in the Seventh Eye which is sponsored by the Israeli Democracy Institute.
Hebrew original
14 hours of labour
Israeli framers have declared that they will cease delivering their produce to the markets until there is an increase in the number of migrant workers available to them. That protest touches every newspaper reader in an immediate and a direct way. But nevertheless the protest has been shoved down to a lowly place in the papers’ priority lists. They prefer to keep on digging up the sexual harassment case at the top echelon of the police and dealing with other not-so-ground-shaking items.
Not that nothing has been written. “'Tomato strike” is the somewhat idiotic headline on the cover of Yediot Acharonot." The double-page spread on the subject focuses on the direct and immediate impact on consumers (will there or won’t there be any vegetables in the markets). The coverage in Ma'ariv is identical; the same box in the same location on the cover and the same degree of idiocy in the headline with market is in shock (a great alliteration in Hebrew). The report focuses on the short-term effects and not the protest or its causes.
Yisrael Hayom carries a laconic report, quoting the farmers’ arguments and those of the Treasury. The reporter carries the by line of three reporters, while a single secretary, not even proficient in Hebrew, would have been enough to produce it.
Haaretz is the only newspaper that offers mature a perspective of events. While the headline deals with the strike, but the report itself, by Haim Biur and Eli Ashkenazi, highlights to the reader the reasons why there may be, or may not be, any tomatoes on his table. There is a juxtaposed report explaining more by Dana Weiler-Polak. According to her report "starting from 2011 the employment of asylum seekers will be deemed to the equivalent of employing an illegal worker." In an analysis column Biur asks, "Why should we not require the farmers to employ African workers who are in Israel, instead of bringing workers from Thailand?"
But the clearest analysis was provides by Globes’ Shai Niv. He points out that the government has adopted the recommendations of the committee that provided for a gradual reduction of the number of foreign workers in agriculture to only 7000 by 2015. “However, farmers’ organisations, thanks to an extraordinarily broad lobby in the Knesset that includes MKS from Meretz to the National Union, have managed to thwart the implementation of the recommendation. Instead they concluded a far more conducive agreement with the Departments of Agriculture and the Treasury: Rather than 7000 employees, the number will be capped at 18 thousand ". But now the farmers want to up the quota to 26 thousand.
"You would expect someone in the government to look the farmers in the eye and tell them to agreements must be respected," writes Niv. He sarcastically quotes the Welfare Minister's call for farmers’ demands to be acceded to, as the strike "will cause damage to the minimum nutritional security of children, the elderly and families in distress". Even those 7000 employees, whom the Eckstein Committee recommended should stay, were to be restricted to remote locations. "On the other hand, in the North of the country or in the central and Sharon districts, there are enough Arab women labourers ready to work," writes Niv. "If you require proof, an organisation called Maan [] has lists of thousands of experienced Arab women workers desperately seeking work".
"So here's the problem? Farmers, or those who own the fields (many in the industry have long ago ceased working the land themselves), expect their employees to work 12-14 a day for the minimum wage they pay. Further they want their employees to sleep close to the fields. Heaven forbids that they should go home. ‘The Arab labourers want to go home after 8-9 hours of work’, the farmers tell us. Really, what chutzpah on the part of the Arabs. But we are fortunate to have Thai labourers, lucky to have Isaac Herzog as Minster for Welfare to give farmers an easy life. "
"Treasury contends that the farmers ought to increase wages and employ Israeli workers," reads the report in The Marker." Now, there’s an idea.
Translated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service.

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