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Unions raise concerns over migrant workers in Israel

30 January, 2024Trade unions in South Asia raised concerns over migration of precarious workers to Israel as the war in Palestine continues.

In light of the ongoing bombing of the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and West Bank, Israel‘s government has prohibited Palestinian workers from entering its territory. Over one million Palestinian workers have been engaged in various precarious jobs in Israel before their work permits were cancelled. In an attempt to address the labour shortage, Israel is planning to bring in migrant workers from Asia.

In India, recruitment drives are ongoing sending precarious workers to Israel. Sri Lanka’s government has also been encouraging its workers to apply for work in Israel. There were already many workers from Nepal employed in Israel, some of who have lost their lives during the war.

Trade unions in both India and Sri Lanka have criticised their governments for encouraging workers to find jobs in a war zone. According to a bilateral agreement, which  India’s government signed with Israel in May last year, around 42,000 Indian workers would be sent to work in Israel. However, in the present situation it is estimated that over one hundred thousand Indian workers will be sent to Israel.

The joint platform of central trade unions in India issued a statement in November last year, opposing the Indian government’s decision to export Indian workers to Israel to replace workers from Palestine. In the statement unions said that “the decision would make India an accomplice in Israel’s ongoing genocidal war against Palestinians.”

Sanjay Vadhavkar, general secretary of the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers Federation of India, an IndustriALL affiliate in India, says:

“It is a very wrong decision by the Indian government to send its workers to work in such dangerous working conditions. There are serious safety concerns for workers in Israel right now.”

Anton Marcus, secretary general of the Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees’ Union, an IndustriALL affiliate in Sri Lanka, says:

“It is very unfortunate that the Sri Lankan government is failing to provide job security and social protection to workers in the country and is instead encouraging them to look for work elsewhere, that too in a war zone.”

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL’s South Asia regional secretary, says:

“It is appalling that the governments in South Asia are facilitating workers to go and work in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories instead of working to end the war.”

Photograph: ILO Flickr