Israel Wants to Replace Thai Migrant Workers With Sudanese Refugees

State officials propose reducing number of foreign workers in agriculture by 2,400, or 10% of the total.

The government wants some of the Sudanese refugees living in Israel to replace workers from Thailand on the country's farms. The idea was among several proposed during a recent meeting between farmers and representatives from the Prime Minister's Office. The farmers shot down the idea, saying that all of the attempts made so far to employ the refugees from Sudan have failed because the Sudanese do not want to do farm work. According to the farmers, all of the Sudanese refugees hired to work on farms left after a few days and found less demanding jobs in the center of the country.

State officials also proposed reducing the number of foreign workers in agriculture by 2,400, or 10% of the total. The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, is expected to put this proposal to a cabinet vote on Sunday.

In the last decade, the number of foreign nationals brought to Israel to work in agriculture rose by an average of 1,100 a year. Foreign workers now make up about 35% of Israel's agricultural work force - the highest proportion of any developed country apart from the United States. During the same period, the number of Israelis employed in agriculture fell by an average of 1,400 a year.

The cabinet recently approved giving Israelis who agree to take a farming job, and who stick it out for a full year, a bonus amounting to 17.3% over minimum wage; employers will receive a NIS 7,000 incentive payment for every Israeli they hire and keep for a year.

Twelve regional council heads and the head of the Israel Farmers' Federation recently sent a harshly worded letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demanding an end to the state's repeated attempts to reduce the number of foreigners working in agricultural, mainly in peripheral areas. They said that 15,000 more foreign workers are needed to end the severe shortage of agricultural workers in Israel.