Editorial

China Is Fed Up With Israel's Negligence at Construction Sites

Given the wave of racism swamping Israel, it's hard to imagine public pressure ending the careless disregard; as long as it’s not Jews, who cares that dozens of workers are killed every year?

A Chinese construction worker in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum

Only a combination of greed and racism can explain the numerous fatalities on Israeli construction sites and the indifference with which these incidents are received. On Wednesday a worker was killed on a building site in Bnei Brak operated by Yesh Lee Or Construction. The man, who was identified as Munir Salah, was the 17th person to die this year in a construction-site accident.

Three weeks ago, a worker from China died in an accident on a Shikun & Binui construction site in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim industrial park. He was the second Chinese building-site fatality in Israel this year. The government in Beijing, outraged over the frequent deaths of Chinese laborers working in Israel, has barred 36 Israeli building projects from employing its nationals.

Apparently Israel is notorious for its poor workplace-safety record, so in the agreement signed some 18 months ago to bring around 20,000 construction workers to Israel, China insisted on individually approving each building site. To Israel’s disgrace, the safety situation on its construction sites is so bad, supervision and deterrence so poor, that China hired four inspectors of its own.

But the Chinese inspectors only work on sites where Chinese citizens are employed. On the sites excluded by China, no government — certainly not Israel’s — protects the workers properly.

In the past 15 years some 500 construction workers have died in Israel. “The construction field is full of dangers,” cried State Comptroller Joseph Shapira in a harsh report issued in early May. The report found that the government agencies responsible for worker safety in the sector were negligent. For years, the Contractors’ Registrar has failed to take measures against thousands of unregistered contractors.

Even after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued safety orders against contractors and submitted the orders to the Contractors’ Registrar, the agency took no disciplinary measures against the offending contractors.

The comptroller said the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Contractors’ Registrar “fail to impose an effective enforcement system including an evidence-gathering mechanism” against contractors, and as a result contractors are not prosecuted.

Shapira called on the ministers of construction, finance and labor, social affairs and social services “to act vigorously to repair the deficiencies.” But given the wave of populism and racism swamping Israel, it’s hard to imagine the public pressure that would end the careless disregard in the construction business. As long as it’s not Jews, who cares that dozens of workers are killed and hundreds more are injured every year?

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.