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Labor union slams deal to import Chinese workers

Histadrut head threatens action over agreement he says includes a clause that would deprive Israelis of work

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn seen at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem on March 26, 2017. (NLF). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn seen at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem on March 26, 2017. (NLF). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Histadrut Labor Union head Avi Nissenkorn threatened action against the government on Wednesday over a deal that allows Chinese construction laborers to work in Israel.

Nissenkorn sent letters to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz and Construction Minister Yoav Galant, saying that the government’s deal to bring foreign workers from China to Israel contains a clause that would allow the employment of professional workers in specialist positions which could be done by Israelis.

In regular circumstances an employer who wishes to bring skilled labor to Israel must show that there is no suitable Israeli candidate who can perform the task.

In his letter Nissenkorn warned that if the deal is not overturned the Histadrut will not hesitate to take steps, including a declaration of a labor dispute — a precursor to a full strike.

Nissenkorn is facing a challenge to his leadership of the labor union by Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, in an election to be held on May 23.

The deal with the Chinese government, signed two weeks ago, will initially bring 6,000 Chinese construction workers to Israel, with a total of 20,000 expected to follow later.

Chinese workers attend the opening ceremony of the construction works for the new Tel Aviv Light Rail on February 19, 2017. (Flash90)
Chinese workers attend the opening ceremony of the construction works for the new Tel Aviv Light Rail on February 19, 2017. (Flash90)

The workers are part of the government’s plan to address a housing shortage contributing to high property prices.

In January Finance Minister Kahlon said the arrival of the Chinese workers would “energize efforts to solve the housing crisis.”

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.

Kahlon, whose Kulanu party ran in the 2015 general election on a platform of lowering living costs, came under fire after an August government report showed apartment prices had risen by eight percent in a year.

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