Who in Israel Cares About Workers Dying?

Haaretz Editorial
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A collapsed elevator at a construction site in Tel Aviv, which killed a construction worker in June.
A collapsed elevator at a construction site in Tel Aviv, which killed a construction worker in June.Credit: Hadas Parush
Haaretz Editorial

Laborers in Israel keep dying. These are the laborers who died this week: On Tuesday, a 24-year-old man from the West Bank town of Aqraba died at a construction site in Ashdod after falling from scaffolding onto an iron rod. A 28-year-old man from the West Bank city of Nablus was electrocuted to death on a construction site in Petah Tikva.

A 60-year-old man from the West Bank city of Tubas died after falling into a sewage pit at a factory in the industrial zone of Beit She’an. On Monday, a 33-year-old man from Umm al-Fahm died after a roof collapsed on him at a construction site in Herzliya. According to Palestinian reports, on Sunday a 33-year-old man from Tarqumiya died while working in Kafr Aqab, in East Jerusalem. And the week is not over.

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In a properly run state, the carnage in the construction and manufacturing industries would shake the foundations. In the year to date, 36 people have died in work accidents, 20 of them in the construction industry. But in today’s Israel, with its combination of ultranationalism, capitalism and greed, the death of laborers, nearly all of them non-Jews and therefore at the bottom of the ladder – Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians from the territories, work migrants and asylum seekers – flies under the radar and is met by near-total apathy.

Public indifference offers a favorable climate for negligence on the part of contractors and developers and for neglect on the part of the government and the authorities. If no one cares about the death of a construction worker, the government can continue to neglect the fight to guarantee safety on building sites. If the state doesn’t enforce the safety regulations, if it does not issue enough fines and closure orders, and if the prosecution doesn’t indict criminals in the industry, deterrence will never be achieved.

A lack of deterrence encourages negligence. For example, the site in Petah Tikva where a worker was electrocuted to death was not supervised by the Labor Ministry, because the developer and the city did not report the site to the ministry. The site in Herzliya was similarly unreported.

The only way to get contractors to respect the lives of the workers they employ is by raising the price they will be forced to pay in the event of a death. Increasing the number of inspectors will not be effective as long as their findings do not result in indictments.

Israel’s new “change government” must go all out on fighting the issue. Labor Minister Meir Cohen and Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee chairwoman Efrat Rayten must put worker safety at the top of their agenda and see to it that safety scofflaws in the construction industry are punished. An excellent way to start is by adopting the recommendations of the 2014 Adam Commission, which were submitted to the person who was the economy and industry minister at the time and who is the prime minister today: Naftali Bennett.

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

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