Finance Ministry officials aren’t particularly upset by the number of workers falling to their deaths at construction sites. So far this year, 11 workers have been killed in accidents, eight of them in construction. That didn’t prevent the Finance Ministry’s Accountant General Department from actually easing a regulation barring contractors that violated workplace safety rules from bidding for government projects.
In 2019, in the wake of a dispute between the state and the Histadrut labor federation over an increase in work accidents, the treasury promised to draw up and impose conditions for allowing recognized contractors to bid for state projects, based on their safety records. Initially, a contractor who received two safety injunctions was suspended from bidding for government projects. In 2020 the rule was amended: Suspension would result only if the Labor Ministry’s occupational safety directorate checked with the registrar of contractors to see if the license was suspended over safety violations. This month the regulation was amended again: Now a company will be suspended only if the registrar suspended the contractor’s license provisionally.
This is a concession to the negligent and turning a blind eye to safety lapses. Contractors will benefit, and the price will be paid by workers, sometimes even with their lives. Instead of suspending serial safety violators from the list of recognized contractors for government projects, the state is giving in to the negligent and abandoning workers.
The change is liable to lead to builders with dozens of safety injunctions continuing to bid for and win government contracts, until the registrar decides the case. In addition, the new rule contains a provision allowing for the Accountant General’s Department and the tenders committee to reinstate suspended contractors in “special circumstances,” thus bypassing the regulations.
Due to the decision to change and freeze the rule, in the interim three builders whose licenses were suspended provisionally from the registrar but which were not barred from competing for state contracts benefited. On the construction site of one of these companies – Walid Ghrayeb – Sayid Kadah, 40, a Palestinian father of six, was killed this week.
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Softening the regulation is not the only act of leniency by the Accountant General’s Department for the benefit of the contractors. Workplace safety was recently removed from criteria for ranking the performance of the recognized contractors for the purpose of awarding government projects. The argument is that recognized companies comply with safety regulations. But that is not the situation on the ground. According to the figures of the Coalition against Construction Accidents, in the past two years 19 workers have died at building sites (not for public projects) operated by registered contractors.
A state where worker safety is at the forefront must punish the negligent companies and reward those that are strict about safety.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.