Editorial

Even the Labor Union Doesn’t Care

Building site where four workers were killed in a crane collapse, Yavne, May 19, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

With no deterrence and in the absence of a government, fatal accidents at construction sites continue to occur. On Thursday, another worker plunged to his death at a Jerusalem site. Amin Odeh Radaideh, 63, was the 43rd fatality in the construction industry this year. Despite the growing number of deaths, the agencies that are supposed to combat negligence in this area are not doing what’s required in order to fix the situation. Due to a lack of public interest in construction workers, most of whom are not Jewish, anarchy reigns.

Radaideh was the only one killed on Thursday, but four other workers fell at sites across the country that day, sustaining various degrees of injuries. Only by luck did these four escape the cruel fate suffered by Radaideh. In fact, the fate of construction workers in Israel depends solely on luck, since the government mechanisms designed to protect their lives through safety regulations and their enforcement, as well as punitive mechanisms meant to punish transgressors, are malfunctioning.

A year ago, after the Histadrut labor federation (under Avi Nissenkorn) threatened to shut down the country, an agreement was signed with the Labor, Finance and Housing Ministries designed to improve safety at construction sites. It included clauses that would also increase supervision and retribution. However, most of these clauses have not yet been implemented, and many of them are still in their nascent stages.

Last week it turned out that workers who were counting on the Histadrut to come to their defense again, since government ministries continue to neglect them, were in for disappointment. In an internal meeting at the Histadrut, when the possibility of waging a general strike in response to this neglect came up for discussion, Chairman Arnon Bar-David dissociated himself from the workers, saying that he did not consider protecting their safety a part of his job.

If this was not enough, the Histadrut is delaying the reforms it itself initiated, which were supposed to expand the responsibility for workers’ safety to include developers as well as on-site contractors. The trade union is arguing that further investigation is required since a review of this problem “does not include a sufficiently thorough reference to several essential risk factors at construction sites,” as reported by Lee Yaron in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition on Friday.

Not only is the government shirking its responsibility for these workers’ safety, but now the body that’s supposed to defend them in face of the government’s negligence is holding up a reform of the industry. The situation has become intolerable. First of all, the agreement must be implemented, with the Histadrut verifying, by using all the means at its disposal, that government ministries are meeting their obligations to construction workers. Later, improvements in the proposed reform must be put in place, but not before the number of fatalities is curbed.

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