Big win for all construction workers on Israeli building sites

FotoThe Israeli national trade union centre The Histadrut is about to sign a groundbreaking new work agreement covering all construction workers in Israel – whether they are Israelis, foreign guest workers or Palestinians.

The announcement (expected January 21) will be a challenge to the Israeli right-wing who have campaigned to push all non-Israelis, working in construction,  out of the country.

The Netanyahu government has committed themselves to forcing  all foreign construction workers out of the country by 2012.

In a speech this week to the  big employer body, the Manufacturers Association of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu promised a massive clampdown on foreign workers, warning of an “illegal infiltration”  from Africa.

” We founded a Jewish and democratic state, and we can’t let it turn into a foreign workers’ state,” Netanyahu is quoted as telling the MAI.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli PM wants to build a new barrier and wall along the Egyptian border to stop a  “flood” of African immigrants seeking jobs in Israel.

Key wins for construction workers in new agreement

The agreement, as outlined by Israel National News, between the trade union and all the big building contractors will:

  • Set salary requirements for all workers and managers in construction;
  • Provide for pensions and educational funds;
  • Vacation and sick leave;
  • Compensation for days that work is cancelled due to bad weather; and
  • An appeals process for workers who feel they have been unfairly dismissed

Challenge to Israeli Right

The announcement scheduled for this week comes right on top of the heels of a demand by a prominent Right-wing Israeli politician, Ya’acov Katz,  who is pushing for a special fund to train Israelis for the construction industry  to completely push out and replace Palestinians and foreign workers.

In  Israel the construction industry is almost completely dominated by non-Israeli workers filling the huge  demand for new housing and office buildings. Many come from China and Thailand but also from different parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ya’acov  Katz told the Jerusalem Post that he is pushing for a massive crackdown on the employment of illegal foreign workers in Israel.

But the Israeli Construction and Wood Workers Union , a section of the national trade union centre, Histadrut, is committed to organising foreign workers, and providing training and representation for Palestinians who want to work in the  Israeli construction industry.

At the end of last year the Israeli Construction and Wood Workers Union  helds its 12th Congress in Tel Aviv Israel under the theme “The construction sector as a bridge to peace”.

Support increased Palestinian participation in booming sector

Yitzchak Moyal, who was re-elected union leader, emphasized a commitment of the union to look at ways of increasing the ability of Palestinians to access jobs in their booming sector – including working with his Palestinian union counterparts on a series of joint projects.

Moyal  emphasized at the November meeting that the union will work to update the industry wide agreement for all workers whether Israelis, Palestinians, or foreigners.

More details of the agreement

Under the new agreement about to be announced starting salaries for construction workers will begin at NIS 4,350 a month, and climb to NIS 6,200 after several years of experience.

Managers will be able to earn between NIS 6,550 and NIS 8,200.

Salaries will increase by 6% over the next two years, by which time workers will be earning 19% more than the minimum wage.

The work week is set at 42 hours, beyond which employers will have to pay overtime.

Global unions back Israeli and Palestinian unions’  joint training program proposal

The Construction Workers’ Union congress also called upon  Israeli construction companies to make greater use of green building methods by utilizing environmentally friendly materials, recycled materials and plans that facilitate maximum conservation of energy, and this for the sake of our future and the future of our children.

Earlier in 2009 Israeli and Palestinian construction workers’ unions came together to form an apprenticeship scheme.  Sponsored by the respective unions  the programme will entail permanent employment following the completion of a training program.  International financial support is currently being sought in co-operation with the global  union confederation the  Building and Wood Workers’ International.

The congress of the  Israeli  Construction and Wood Workers Union  was attended by leaders of the global union representing construction workers the Building and Wood Workers’ International as well as Italian and German construction union leaders.

Read earlier items about Palestinian and Israeli construction workers, and organising guest workers