JDC-Israel Head: Manpower Companies Importing Foreign Workers Is 'Trafficking'

Putting private companies in charge of importing foreign workers is comparable to human trafficking, says Arnon Mantver, head of the Joint Distribution Committee-Israel.

"The responsibility for importing foreign workers to Israel needs to be the government's," Mantver told TheMarker. "Manpower companies can have a role in handling foreign workers, but not in actually importing them. The importing has to be carried out in a nonprofit framework, because otherwise you're trafficking the right to work in Israel - and this becomes human trafficking," Mantver added.

Thai workers Dror Artzi 2006
Dror Artzi

Mantver and the JDC-Israel are scheduled to receive an award from President Shimon Peres this month for their role in fighting human trafficking through the JDC's nonprofit organization, the Center for International Migration and Integration. Mantver founded and chairs the group.

Labor migrants often pay illegal fees in order to get to Israel for work. They can range from a few thousand dollars per person to as much as $30,000, depending where the potential worker is from and his field of employment.

As a result, at least some of the foreigners granted Israeli work permits arrive deeply indebted.

Not only does this system violate the foreigners' human rights, it also creates a system that uneducated Israeli workers are unable to compete against. The foreigners, competing for the same jobs as the uneducated Israelis, often agree to work around the clock and in subpar conditions if this is what is necessary to pay off their debt.

The highest fees are paid by Chinese looking to work in Israel's construction industry, according to Kav La'Oved (Worker's Hotline ), a nonprofit aimed at protecting workers' rights. The organization petitioned the High Court of Justice over the government's inaction in the face of the illegal fees.

Mantver has worked with labor migrants for years, serving as Israel's representative to the International Organization for Migration. As leader of the JDC-Israel, he set up CIMI to address labor migration within Israel. The group serves as the European Union's representative for tracking labor migrants and refugees in Israel.

The JDC-Israel also assisted Israel's government to work with the IOM regarding agricultural labor migrants from Thailand. Following a two-year process, Israel and Thailand signed an agreement giving IOM exclusive responsibility for bringing Thai workers to Israel, starting next month, in place of private manpower companies.

The Thai workers will pay the IOM a $1,000 fee, in place of the $10,000 or so that manpower companies charge.

While foreign citizens pay hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal fees in order to work in Israel, that money is collected abroad and there are no concrete records indicating that any ever makes its way here.

Read this article in Hebrew.