State Bragged About $12 Million in Safety Fines, but Barely Collects

Contrary to Labor Ministry’s bombastic claims, only $115,000 in penalties have been collected from construction firms

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Haim Katz
Haim KatzCredit: Pool Photograph

Despite Labor Minister Haim Katz’s grandiose announcement in April that his ministry had imposed 44 million shekels ($12.1 million) in fines on building contractors for work site safety violations, official ministry data shows the true figure is only a fraction of that.

In fact, the ministry has issued just 1.5 million shekels in fines and collected under one-third of the amount — 419,000 shekels.

Katz’s claim regarding the number of fines imposed, 1,600, was similarly exaggerated. Only 53 fines have been levied.

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Nor was this a one-time error. In February, the ministry issued a press release claiming it had issued 660 fines totaling 19 million shekels since January 1. But as the new data shows, it hasn’t come close to reaching these figures even six months later.

The ministry had refused for months to publish the true numbers, even though it is required to do so by law. But it finally sent the data to Kav La’oved — Worker’s Hotline a few days ago, in response to a letter from one of the organization’s lawyers, Gadeer Nicola.

Fining contractors for safety violations has been Katz’s flagship effort to reduce work accidents at building sites. A regulation permitting the ministry to levy fines of 25,000 to 30,000 shekels came into effect January 1.

But as Nicola said, “the data we received this week show that Labor Minister Haim Katz’s flagship project in the war on work accidents in the construction industry has been a resounding failure.” 

Since Katz assumed responsibility for workplace safety two years ago, she continued, he has repeatedly boasted of the power of fines to solve the problem of rampant safety violations at building sites by hitting contractors in their pockets. But the “miserable sum” actually collected refutes this claim, she said.

Moreover, Nicola charged, the enormous gap between the ministry’s press statements over the past several months and the actual data “unfortunately point to a deliberate policy by the Labor Ministry of misleading the public — of showing the public that the ministry is working resolutely to protect workers when in practice, nothing has been done.”

She suggested that Katz’s figure for the number of fines imposed, 1,600, may actually have been the number of safety violations discovered, and the total of 44 million shekels he gave for fines imposed might reflect the total that would have been reached had fines actually been imposed for every violation.

Nicola also demanded that Katz significantly increase the number of inspectors checking for safety problems at construction sites, arguing that without this step, “no program or project will succeed, because there will be no one to implement it.”

In June, Haaretz reported that safety inspectors who discover life-threatening safety problems during on-site inspections don’t inform the contractors immediately, but only days or weeks later, when they seek to impose a fine. Moreover, the ministry has ordered the inspectors to document violations but not try to prevent them. 

The Labor Ministry confirmed at the time that this used to be the policy, but said it no longer is.