With 70 percent of Labor and Social Services Ministry’s building safety inspectors sent home to isolation, tens of thousands of construction workers, mostly Palestinians from the occupied territories, continue to work at construction sites with no reduction in workload and without a supervisory body ensuring compliance with Health Ministry regulations.
Even under normal conditions, Israel suffers from a tremendous shortage of construction site inspectors, a fact that contributes significantly to the country’s extremely high rate of workplace accidents involving scores of fatalities and serious injuries every year.
According to Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), “There are thousands of workers who come into contact with many others every day. They could be a major source of infection and infect the entire population. The state has defined construction workers as essential, but inspectors have been sent home.” She revealed this during a Webinar organized by Hadash on Tuesday, March31, with the participation of Dr. Efraim Davidi, the chief editor of the Communist weekly Zu Haderech. Thousands attended the Webinar virtually via Zoom conferencing and Facebook.
A special meeting of the Knesset’s Labor, Health and Welfare Committee headed by MK Touma-Sliman was held of on Tuesday, March 31, to discuss the handling of work accidents at construction sites and the lack of protection against COVID-19. A representative of the Housing Ministry said, “Much of the work at construction sites is solo work, so the industry knows how to protect its workers and abide by the regulations.” Touma-Sliman replied “If you demand that Palestinian workers remain in Israel for two months, there must be a way to protect them and to exempt them from paying for medical services.”
Last week, the Group for Combating Work and Industrial Accidents appealed to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Labor and Social services, Health and Housing, demanding that they give detailed guidelines about procedures and protective measures that are required to protect workers, defining the regulatory agency responsible for their enforcement. So far, nothing has happened.