Migrant Construction Workers in Israel Three Times More Likely to Die in On-site Accidents Than Locals

Report also finds that migrant and Palestinian workers are much less likely to sue and get compensated for accidents

File photo: A Chinese construction worker in Israel, April 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Three times as many migrant workers died in construction accidents in Israel compared with Israeli and Palestinian workers, according to a groundbreaking new report by the Labor Ministry and the National Insurance Institute, based on data collated in 2017.

The death rate from accidents among construction workers is 21.3 per 100,000 for migrant workers, compared with 7.8 for Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, according to the report.

Labor Ministry figures show that migrant workers constitute 9 percent of construction workforce. Yet according to data collected by a coalition fighting construction accidents, in 2017, 19.4 percent of deaths were among migrant workers. One of the reasons for this discrepancy is that some accidents happen beyond the Green Line, where the ministry does not supervise construction sites.

The ministry report also found that migrant workers injured in construction accidents tend not to exercise their rights to compensation through the National Insurance Institute, while Israeli ones do.

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Hadas Tagari, who heads the accident-fighting coalition, suspects that the higher death rate among foreign workers compared with local ones could be based on language difficulties, different work habits, and the payment method which rewards speed over cautious performance.

Tagari also says that migrant workers and Palestinians are hired to do the most hazardous jobs.

The report concludes that there is an acute need to reexamine working patterns among migrant workers, as well as ways to ensure their safety. This would include training, language accessibility and the ability to alert authorities when job conditions are hazardous.

The report, the first of its kind to study the incidence of accidents among migrant as opposed to local construction workers, found that 302,000 construction workers were employed in 2017, of whom 70,000 were residents of the West Bank and 28,000 were foreign.

Israelis constitute 68 percent of the construction workforce but are responsible for 89 percent of the compensation claims, while Palestinians are responsible for only 10 percent (well below their proportion in the construction workforce). Tagari urges the NII to force builders to make it easier for their workers to sue, and help these workers overcome the bureaucratic obstacles.

In 2017 the NII paid out 4.8 billion shekels in compensation for work accidents and illness in the construction industry. The report shows that the figure has been increasing by the year, as has the number of deaths in construction – until 2017, when the incidence of death decreased by 4 percent compared with the year before. But the dip reversed in 2018, says Tagari, when 41 people died at construction sites, three of them passersby. She says part of the problem is the high turnover rate in the chief supervisor position, political power games, and poor management. At present there is no chief supervisor, she says, and dozens of inspection positions remain unmanned.

Other statistics showed that the probability of dying while working in construction is 6.3 times greater than dying in industry.