Number of Palestinians Working in Israel Doubled Over Four Years, Central Bank Says

Palestinians have been displacing foreign workers because they are more reliable and stay at their jobs longer, the central bank said.

Emil Salman

The number of Palestinians from the West Bank working in Israel both legally and illegally doubled in the past four years to about 92,000 in 2014, in many cases displacing overseas guest workers, the Bank of Israel said yesterday.

But Palestinians working in Israel get paid less than their Israeli counterparts – even those working for the same employers – and few are getting pension and other benefits, the central bank noted. Palestinians entering Israel with a permit pay “significant” fees to Palestinian and Israeli labor contractors.

Nevertheless, wages in Israel are considerably higher than in the West Bank, the Bank of Israel noted in an excerpt from its 2014 annual report released in advance. Palestinians with Israeli work permits earn an average of 186 shekels ($47) a day, compared with 87 shekels in the West Bank.

Palestinians have been displacing foreign workers because they are more reliable and stay at their jobs longer, the central bank said.

“In recent rounds of hostilities, including the period of Operation Protective Edge [last summer], the defense establishment allowed most Palestinian workers to continue to enter Israel on a regular basis,” the report said.

“Such a policy diminishes one of the advantages that employment of foreign workers held over employment of Palestinian workers in the past.”

The government has been easing the entry of West Bank Palestinians into Israel, for instance increasing the number of overnight-stay permits to around 14,000 from 10,000 last year, and lowering the minimum age for getting a work permit. Nevertheless, Israel only allows married men over age 24 into Israel to work.

The West Bank economy has benefited, too, from growing employment in Israel, the bank noted. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Palestinians working in Israel made up 11.7% of the Palestinian West Bank workforce last year and their wages in 2013 were equal to 12.3% of the West Bank’s gross domestic product.

Working in Israel is more lucrative for Palestinians, even if it means passing through checkpoints and long travel times. The minimum wage in Israel, the Bank of Israel noted, is 198 shekels a day, more than double the average in the West Bank.

Most of the growth in Palestinians working in Israel came in construction work, where the number tripled and Palestinians now account for about 15% of all building workers in Israel. Palestinians accounted for virtually all the growth in construction employment. Overall, Palestinians comprise about 2.2%of Israel’s workforce, the central bank estimated.

Palestinian labor force surveys indicate that even among Palestinians working with a permit in Israel, only a very small number said they were employed through a contract and eligible for pension allowances, sick pay and vacation days. Palestinians rarely get these social benefits, even though Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority is supposed to be collecting them and the construction is governed by collective labor agreements.

“Informing Palestinian workers of their rights may enhance the utilization of these rights,” the report noted.