Editorial

Where Life Is Cheap in Israel

The government’s failures are responsible for the fact that human lives have become the construction industry’s cheapest resource

File photo: Construction work on a building in Tel Aviv, 2016.
Eyal Toueg

Construction workers in Israel are dying like flies, and nobody seems to care. Two Palestinian workers and one from China were killed on Monday in two separate construction accidents. Over the past two years, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz has repeatedly promised to declare war on construction accidents, but the war so far has been weak and hesitant. And the construction companies understand this governmental apathy very well.

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The lethal combination of a regulator fleeing from its responsibility and companies seeking to maximize their profits will continue claiming victims, generally members of weak, defenseless groups like Palestinians or migrant workers. Since the start of the year, 28 construction workers have been killed – an increase of almost 50 percent in the number of fatalities compared to the same period last year. But public apathy allows both the construction criminals and the law enforcement system to go along as if nothing has happened.

Ibrahim al-Hadidi, 32, and Rami Bader, 34, were killed after falling from a scaffold at a construction site in Rosh Ha’ayin run by Electra Construction. Ban Yajun, a 36-year-old Chinese national, was killed when he fell from a height of four stories at a construction site in Lod run by the Tidhar company. That same day, Wasim Awad Fayyad Mahameed, 28, died after having been electrocuted in a work accident last week in Talmei Elazar.

>> Nearly 3,000 contractor's licenses revoked in Israel since 2010 – none for safety violations

For now, Hadidi and Bader are the latest names in a growing list of workers killed while working at sites where Electra Construction is either the developer or the contractor. Over the past three years, seven other workers have also been killed at the company’s construction sites, and three more have been seriously injured.

Data from the Labor Ministry shows that the company is accident-prone. It has frequently been slapped with orders requiring it to rectify serious safety problems. But despite all this, the Housing Ministry’s registrar of contractors has taken no steps whatsoever against the company. And Electra Construction is just one of many. Over the past eight years, the registrar has revoked the licenses of 2,700 contractors, but never once has it done so because of safety lapses.

Granted, Katz isn’t responsible for the registrar of contractors. But even in areas under his control, no good news has been forthcoming. The number of inspectors in the ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration and their poor working conditions make real oversight impossible. Katz’s ministry watered down a law that was supposed to require contractors to have someone in charge of safety at every worksite, and he passed the buck on requiring them to use scaffolding that meets European standards, insisting that this was the Economy Ministry’s job. Even his grandiose declarations about his success in imposing fines on contractors proved to be premature: A special police unit to investigate construction accidents is supposed to start work only next year.

The government’s attitude toward construction accidents is apathetic and dismissive. Its lack of effective action and its many failures to act are responsible for the fact that human lives have become the construction industry’s cheapest resource.

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