Interior Ministry freezes all entry permits for Thai workers
Interior Ministry source said the freeze came as part of a review regarding the extent of the shortage of workers on some farms versus the surplus on other farms.
The Interior Ministry is freezing all entry permits for Thai workers until further notice, it informed farmers organizations over the weekend.
An Interior Ministry source said the freeze came as part of a review regarding the extent of the shortage of workers on some farms versus the surplus on other farms. Therefore, a "balancing system" needs to be set up, the source said.
In response, farming sector officials cautioned that the lack of agricultural workers will increase, thus severely damaging Israel's agriculture industry and produce exports.
Israeli farmers lost millions of shekels in potential European exports due to the worker shortage last year, they said.
For 2010, 26,000 Thai agricultural workers received permits to work in Israel. Each year, approximately 5,000 Thai workers leave the country when their permits expire, to be replaced by another 5,000 workers.
In September 2009 the government decided to hold a tender for countries seeking to send agricultural workers to Israel.
The participation condition was meeting the requirements of the UN's International Organization of Labor (IOL), which established that workers shall not pay manpower agencies thousands of dollars in fees, and instead can pay up to NIS 3,700 in expenses, plus airfare.
It was further established that a country that meets the terms of the tender will be alloted the entire government quota. The last date for submitting bids was set for February 28, although senior figures involved in recruiting Thai workers said it is quite likely the deadline will be extended by another month or two.
As far is known, Israel spoke with the governments of Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Nepal, but did not reach any agreements.
Thailand says it needs more time
The Thai government reportedly agreed to meet Israel's threshold requirements, but claimed it needed additional time to obtain the necessary permits from the Thai parliament.
The official in charge of foreign workers at the Agriculture Ministry, Haim Hadad, said that in the coming days, the implications of the freeze will be reviewed and if it turns out that it is another unilateral step by the Interior Ministry.
This would be contrary to the cabinet decision passed in agreement with farmers organizations, the farmers will take drastic measures in order to prevent further damage to their farms.