“The CEOs are in palaces, the workers are in coffins,” demonstrators chanted this week opposite Electra CEO Itamar Deutscher’s house in north Tel Aviv to protest the death of yet another construction worker at one of Electra Construction’s building sites. Over the past three years, 10 workers have died at the company’s construction sites. The demonstrators also protested the authorities’ failure to take action against the company.
If four people were killed within 48 hours due to accidents involving electric bikes, an army operation or a terrorist attack, it’s hard to imagine that the public reaction would be complete apathy. In any of those cases, we would see politicians running to find a camera, protesting, expressing sympathy for the families and scattering promises. But the death of four construction workers within two days interests neither the ministers nor the employers.
It doesn’t seem that either group cares about Mohammed Ikram Shuwahneh, a 22-year-old worker from Jaljulya who was electrocuted; Mohammed Nadal Barghout, 22, from the village of Al-Walaja near Bethlehem, who was killed when a boulder hit him in the head; Naaman Khalil Da’adush, 56, of Umm al-Fahm, who was run over by a heavy vehicle; and Anton Marchenko, 26, of Holon, who fell from the 14th story into a waste disposal chute. Since the start of the year, the sustained indifference by the government and employers alike has cost the lives of 36 people.
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The most open secret in the construction industry is that workers are the cheapest raw material. Construction company CEOs know that the registrar of contractors won’t revoke their license over an accident, the stock exchange won’t demand any reports from them and the Labor Ministry won’t freeze work at the site for more than 48 hours.
In the worst case, they’ll have to pay a fine of around 7,000 shekels ($1,900); that’s the average fine levied in the few cases in which construction companies were indicted. It’s much more cost effective to pay that ridiculous fine for the death of a worker than to invest millions of shekels in scaffolding that meets European standards and safety equipment.
Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn has said he will declare a general strike of the entire economy after this month’s local elections are over if the government doesn’t accept his safety demands – making European standards for scaffolding mandatory, enforcing the rule that workers wear a harness, regulating cranes and adding a binding safety annex to the state’s construction and infrastructure contracts.
These are elementary demands, and the government must accept them. It must also impose serious economic sanctions on executives at construction companies and developers that aren’t careful about safety and on whose watch accidents occur. This lawlessness must stop now.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.