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'Revolving Door' Israeli Labor Economics
Govt. plans to replace thousands of deported illegals with Israelis
Yehonathan Tommer (tommery06)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-27 11:19 (KST)   
A plan approved by the Israeli government this week to forcibly reduce the country's number of illegal foreign guest workers, in order to create jobs for tens of thousands of unemployed Israelis, has drawn fire from civil rights groups and economists.

The measures, presented to the Cabinet for its approval by an inter-ministerial committee, propose fines of thousands of dollars and cuts in tax benefits on employers hiring illegal workers. They also encourage manpower agencies to import fewer new workers to the care helper sector for the aged and invalid and keep them longer in the country by paying each worker a year's full employment and by imposing stiff fines on manpower agencies caught charging them exorbitant fees.

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The long-overdue measures seek to curb loop holes perpetuating a "revolving door" for which successive governments have been harshly criticized: foreign workers who lost their job for a variety of reasons, including maltreatment by their employers, risked losing their work permit; they automatically filled a swelling illegal work force of fugitives, severed from their manpower agency and liable to arrest and expulsion from the country by the Interior Ministry's dreaded emigration police squad.

Until the pending reforms are implemented, manpower agencies may seek government approval to import fresh supplies of legal foreign workers to replace the illegal ones.

According to local statistics, Israel has some 255,000 foreign workers, constituting about 10.4 per cent of the labor force. About 125,000 are illegal; 77,000 are legal guest workers employed in nursing, agriculture, construction and the restaurant industry. Another 28,000 Palestinians enter Israel legally for work every day. Before the Second Intifada in 2000, some 150,000 Palestinians, mostly from the Gaza Strip, worked in Israel every day.

The government's initiative to curtail domestic malpractices and encourage the ultra-orthodox haredi religious sector and the large Arab minority to join the widening labor force by filling between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs performed by illegal foreign workers are praised in principle. But its concept has come under heavy fire from civil and human rights groups in Israel as well as from economists.

"We must take care of our own poor first," explained Mr. Netanyahu, who is widely blamed for Israel's labor woes deriving from capitalist reforms he instituted during his first premiership in the late 1990's.

Echoing earlier controversial accusations by the ultra-orthodox Shas coalition Minister for Industry, Commerce and Labor, Eli Yishai, Netanyahu charged that the massive influx of foreign workers aggravated problems of drug use, human trafficking and the erosion of wages, and "harmed our national security and threatened the Jewish democratic majority."

According to the plan tens of thousands of illegal workers are now threatened with mass deportations.

In future every foreign guest worker entering Israel will be assigned to a specific sector stamped on his work permit; he or she will be forbidden from switching to another sector and can be deported if the regulation is breached.

The decision contradicts a 2006 High Court ruling which declared illegal attempts to bind a foreign worker to his employer as a form of modern slavery.

Shevy Korzen, the executive director of the Migrant Worker's Hotline told a local newspaper that the program was "mostly populist grandstanding mixed with touches of xenophobia and racist incitement" that offered "little in the way of real change or reform to tackle the root problem."

She charged the government with failing to properly regulate the work force and with trying to fix the results of its long term unemployment problems at the expense of foreign workers who were "easy targets and convenient scapegoats".

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz linked the plan to the demands of a recent report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which Israel must meet to qualify for membership. The report criticized Israel's employment structure and highlighted significant socio-economic gaps in income that left women, haredi Jews and Arabs largely on the fringes of mainstream employment.

Dr. Roby Nathanson, who directs the Macro Center for Political Economics in Tel Aviv, labeled the plan "science fiction."

"As in many other countries," he told the Jerusalem Post, "Israelis consistently avoid jobs that are dirty, difficult or dangerous."

People from these underrepresented sectors, he said, would not fill the government's slated 30,000 to 50,000 jobs vacated by deported illegals employed in menial tasks like domestic care and nursing helpers, agricultural laborers, dish washers in restaurants and hotel cleaning staff.

©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Yehonathan Tommer

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