Sunday, March 23, 2008

Israeli migrant labor policy

IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
We were told by Yilmazlar [a Turkish manpower agency that supplies construction workers to a number of companies in Israel] that we could make up to $1,400 a month and more with overtime if we worked in Israel," he told IRIN.

"Yilmazlar assured us we would be well treated and be housed in good accommodation. However, when I arrived, my dream turned into a nightmare."

Yelmaz was sharing a room with eight others - furnished with bunk beds - that was so small that there was no space for their suitcases. They were fed a monotonous diet of rice and lentils and there were only three toilets with no running water for 130 workers.

"The conditions of the toilets were so disgusting, they were not fit even for an animal," said Yelmaz.

"We were forbidden from using mobile phones on pain of confiscation and fines and were forced to work an average of 11 hours a day, without being paid overtime. And in our half-hour lunch break we were expected to go home, eat and return to the construction site.

"In addition to our passports being taken away [by the employer], we needed special permission to leave the premises after work and on our day off. If people left without permission, they were fined and threatened with deportation by the management."

The final straw came when Yelmaz found out that he and the other workers would only receive their first payment after three months. He and a friend, 41-year-old father-of-three Hikmat Tekin, decided to challenge their boss.

"We were told by the management that if we didn't like it, we would be deported without payment and barred from employment elsewhere in Israel,"
Tekin said.

As he began his battle against his employer, Yelmaz became aware of the strict Israeli visa regulations governing conditions for migrant workers.

"The issuance of these visas is subject to the workers staying with the same employer stated on the visa and if this condition is broken then the migrant worker is deemed illegal and liable for deportation,” said Sigal Rosen, spokeswoman for Israeli human rights organisation Hotline for Migrant Workers.
There are two ironies:

1) These government policies and business practices towards migrant workers are just like those used in Arab Gulf countries. Israel and Arab Gulf states behave the same way towards migrant workers.

2) In the Arab Gulf workers Yelmaz might not be welcome at all. Since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait - and the support Saddam received from migrant Arab Muslims working in the Gulf - Arab Gulf countries have switched to a greater reliance are workers less likely to make political trouble. More generally, there is the view that Asian Muslims are less politically troublesome than Arab Muslims. Yelmaz is Turkish - not Arab - but he might also not be welcome here for similar reasons.

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