Foreign Ministry strike holds up Chinese construction workers
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Foreign Ministry strike holds up Chinese construction workers

Laborers won’t be processed by Israeli officials, as part of ongoing dispute with the Finance Ministry

Illustrative: Chinese foreign workers excavating tunnels in the Carmel in northern Israel take a break to have lunch. February 24, 2009. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative: Chinese foreign workers excavating tunnels in the Carmel in northern Israel take a break to have lunch. February 24, 2009. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it will hold up processing the work permits for thousands of Chinese construction workers as part of an ongoing dispute with the Finance Ministry.

In a letter, the Ministry workers’ union castigated the treasury for implementing the plan to bring thousands of laborers to alleviate the housing crisis while failing to address their own low wages and conditions.

The diplomatic corps staged a general strike for similar reasons in 2014. The two-week strike, which shuttered Israel’s embassies and consulates worldwide, ended with an agreement with Finance Ministry officials to increase the pay and better the conditions of Israeli diplomats.

However, they say, the Finance Ministry has still not implemented large parts of that agreement, leading to the current crisis.

“This new project requires funds, manpower and appropriate compensations, so we have advised our staff not to carry it out,” the Foreign Ministry union letter said.

Foreign Ministry staff have agreed not to launch another strike pending negotiations with the Finance Ministry, but say that so far, little progress has been made.

The latest act of protest threatens to interrupt the implementation of a deal signed between Israel and China earlier this year that would see some 6,000 workers come to Israel starting in late February.

Housing costs in Israel have been rising steeply since 2008, according to Bank of Israel data, significantly impacting the cost of living and triggering a wave of street protests in 2011. In August, a government report showed apartment prices had risen by eight percent in a year, sparking criticism of the Finance Ministry.

Nearly 9,000 foreign construction laborers work in Israel, all of them from east European countries and half of them under bilateral agreements, according to the Interior Ministry.

The ministry says the agreements allow for the rights of foreign workers to be protected and cut out private manpower firms that charge high commissions and exploit the laborers.

AFP contributed to this report.

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