Israel to let in more Palestinian building workers
If approved by full cabinet, total number of Palestinian building workers in Israel would be 24,500, highest since before second intifada.
A sub-cabinet committee on social and economic affairs is expected to approve a plan today to allow some 5,000 more Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel, so that they can work in construction and help fill a labor shortage in the building industry.
If approved by the full cabinet, as expected, that would bring the total number of Palestinian building workers in Israel to 24,500, the largest number since before the second intifada led to a tightening of border traffic between Israel and the West Bank.
The Israeli building industry faces a severe shortage of skilled workers, especially in the so-called "wet" professions, such as plasterers, roofers, tilers, and scaffold workers. This is the result of the government's stricter policies toward bringing in foreign workers, which in turn has raised the cost of building, as lack of labor has caused a rise in wages.
Allowing more Palestinians to work in Israel would also give a much-needed boost to the West Bank economy, which is slowing as foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority has dried up. Economic growth is down from a peak of 9% in 2010 to 5.4% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012.
Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said yesterday he favored increasing the number of building workers both by allowing more foreign workers into the country and with a higher Palestinian quota. He said he would recommend that quota be raised to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"I am pleased by the expected decision," Atias said. "The pressure I have exerted to increase the number of workers in the building industry aims to provide an answer to the increased demand created by a laudable increase in housing starts."
Although housing starts were down 11% in the first quarter, compared to the same time in 2011, some 83,000 homes were under construction at the end of March, the highest number since June 1999. The government is determined to increase construction of homes, including homes for rental, to keep a lid on prices.
Atias warned, however, that more construction workers will not solve the construction industry's problems unless the shortfall of credit is also addressed.