The Histadrut labor federation is expected to declare a work dispute in the coming days to protest the high number of deaths and injuries on Israeli construction sites.
Declaration of a labor dispute is a warning that must be given to employers, as well as to the chief supervisor of labor relations at the Labor Ministry, at least 15 days ahead of the commencement of a strike. During this cooling-off period, both sides may be brought to the table for mediation.
The move is an attempt to compel the government to implement improved safety measures in order to stave off job action in two weeks’ time, the Haaretz daily reported Saturday.
The threatened strike would extend even to countrywide “essential services,” according to the report.
Thirty construction workers have died on building sites so far this year, and two passersby have also been killed, according to a Facebook group documenting accidents at building sites. The group says 25 workers were killed over the same period last year.
Most of those employed in construction are foreign workers and laborers from the West Bank.
The Histadrut recently presented the government with a report detailing the problems in the industry, as well as a demand for changes in safety regulations, personnel standards, improvement in wage conditions and further legislation on the matter. The union says the government has not yet responded to the document.
Haaretz reported that the rate of deadly work accidents in Israel’s construction industry is more than double the average in the European Union.
According to the report, there are only 18 construction site inspectors in the country, while European standards would require 360 for a similar number of sites.
Furthermore, the Histadrut is demanding tighter regulations on scaffolding, as a quarter of the deadly incidents involve scaffolding that is old, badly installed or inappropriately used. The report said that 70 percent of construction sites have “irregular scaffolding.”
On one day alone in August, three workers fell to to their deaths on Israeli sites.
Many cranes in the country are said to have been manufactured 40 to 50 years ago, whereas the EU only allows cranes to be in operation for 15-25 years.
In February 52-year-old Netta Rotman was killed when part of a crane fell from a building site onto her car in Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv. Rotman was a top official in Access Israel, a disability rights and advocacy group.
The Histadrut also wants a clear chain of command for on-site safety inspections and the implementation of regulations.
The union is also calling for tighter regulations on licenses — not only for operators of heavy equipment, but also for contractors who were found to have broken laws in the past.
Reuven Ben Shimon, founder of the Forum for the Prevention of Work Accidents, told Haaretz he welcomed the Histadrut’s decision to take action.
“After years of fatalities in the construction sector and the deregulation of the most invisible and weak workers in Israeli society, the time has come for the Histadrut, the strongest workers’ organization in the Israeli economy, to care for the welfare of the workers.” he said. “We hope the fatalities in the construction industry will cease, and that decision makers will understand that the workers must return to their families in good health and not in coffins.”
Earlier this year, Hadas Tagari, who established the coalition against construction site accidents, described a series of deaths as the result of a “multi-system failure.”
“The police, whose responsibility it is to investigate, say that the safety manager does not give the appropriate professional evaluation. The State Attorney’s Office, for its part, says that the investigations are conducted negligently and therefore there is difficulty in submitting indictments,” Tagari told Hadashot news.
In September 2016, lawmakers renewed calls to improve safety standards at construction sites and set up a parliamentary inquiry into construction workers’ deaths after six construction workers were killed in the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Hahayal.