Knesset Committee Okays Lighter Cement for Tired Backs

Rejects request by cement monopoly Nesher that implementation be delayed by a year-and-a-half.

A Knesset committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would require cement to be sold in bags weighing no more than 25 kilograms, in addition to the 50-kilogram bags used currently.

The bill, which was approved for its first reading by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, is supposedly a measure to protect the health of construction workers, who report physical ailments from carrying 50-kilogram bags of cement.

However, it has drawn criticism from the Economy Ministry, which claims it is an attempt by Nesher to protect itself against imports that would interfere with its local monopoly. Nesher has said it plans to change over to manufacturing cement in 25-kilogram bags in any case, while internationally cement is generally sold in 50-kilogram bags.

Nesher, the cement monopoly, asked the committee to make the law effective in another year-and-a-half only.

The company is preparing to manufacture 25-kilogram bags in any case, with no connection to this bill, Nesher vice-president Aya Avidor told the MKs. But it requires a lot of logistics and will cost 20 million shekels [about $5.7 million]. We request a year-and-a-half to prepare.

But the committee refused, terming the request exaggerated.

The company subsequently told Haaretz that the preparations include importing suitable equipment, adding that it will make every effort to begin producing the smaller bags as soon as possible.

Committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud) said he drafted the bill after a worker at a building site asked him, Why are we sentenced to carrying 50 kilograms on our backs and suffering slipped disks?

Eran Siv, chairman of the association of renovation contractors, told Haaretz his organization has been trying to persuade Nesher to sell its cement in smaller bags for eight years, but the company demurred, saying it would require replacing machinery and production lines and would therefore be too expensive.

The health damage for construction workers and renovation contractors is irreversible, he said. A 50-year-old renovation contractor is completely incapable of lifting a 50-kilogram bag.

Tal Cohen