Government Urged to Stop Bringing in Chinese Workers

Request follows cabinet agreememt to resume influx of foreign workers after three-year hiatus.

Kav LaOved, the Worker's Hotline for the Protection of Worker's Rights, is demanding that the government stop bringing new construction workers from China to replace those who have left.

The request follows a recent agreement between the cabinet and the Contractors Association to resume bringing foreign workers to Israel after a three-year hiatus.

Kav LaOved sources said each Chinese worker must pay a $12,000 commission to mediators to receive a permit to work here. In this way, Israel is aiding the trafficking of human beings, they said.

Attorney Yuval Livnat wrote to the legal advisers of the Interior and Industry Trade and Employment Ministries that the agreement was illegal, since, among other things, it violates the cabinet's 2002 decision that prohibits bringing in new foreign workers, even to replace those who had left.

Both Israeli law and an international treaty the country has signed prohibit charging workers a commission for finding a work place. However, the cabinet has formulated amendments, which have yet to come into effect, that allow personnel companies to collect about $1,000 per worker to cover the costs of bringing them to the country.

Kav LaOved objects to this permit, but Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry officials said that since the workers are charged anyway, it is better to set a limit to the fee.

The highest commissions are charged in China, where the government allows for the charging of close to $4,000 per worker. The State Comptroller has received reports that Israeli mediators receive similar sums for these workers.

Apparently the commissions charged in recent months are even higher. It is unclear whether Israel will be able to enforce the commission limit in China. The Foreign, Interior, Trade Industry and Employment Ministries have discussed the possibility of a conflict with China over this issue.

According to Contractors Association chief Yehuda Shegev, in the coming months the government will allow 928 new foreign workers to be brought into Israel - about half of them will be from China and the rest from Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. So far, 70 of them have arrived, and half of them are Chinese.