WAC-MAAN challenges the assertion, made by agriculture sector leaders, that taxing farmers for hiring foreign workers would not persuade them to give jobs to Israelis instead. The union claims that farmers prefer Thai workers, who are cheaper.
Translated from The Marker 26.12.2011
Complaints by Israeli farmers that there are not enough agricultural workers in the market place were more vocal in the past week. However, these claims are undermined by figures presented by WAC, according to which “hundreds of Israeli women would like to work in agriculture, but farmers prefer Thai workers, who are cheaper.”
Last week, a complaint was filed with the OECD against the State of Israel by Meir Yifrah, Secretary to the Vegetable Growers’ Association. His protest concerned the fact that taxation levels for employers of foreign workers is the highest amongst members of the Organisation, making it particularly difficult for farmers to fill agricultural vacancies. According to agriculture sector leaders, the taxing of foreign workers will not persuade employers to exchange foreign workers for Israelis. This is because all previous attempts to employ Israelis in agriculture have failed so far.
However, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz insisted at the weekend that he was not about to withdraw the tax on employers of foreign workers, which has been set at 10% of the minimum wage. It is possible that Steinitz made his decision in light of the claim, made by Dani Ben-Simhon, national coordinator for agriculture in WAC, who said, “Hundreds of unemployed Arab-Israeli women are registered with us as wishing to work in agriculture.”
“These women are refused work opportunities because farmers prefer foreign workers,” says Ben-Simhon. “Foreign workers are cheaper and work longer hours – often in blatant contravention of labour law. While foreign workers receive on average IS14, Israeli workers have to be paid at least the minimum wage. At the same time, these are diligent, industrious workers, who work eight, ten and even twelve hours consecutively, travel one and half hour each way to work and are willing to sacrifice a lot for the opportunity of a job.
In 2011 WAC supported 600 women to integrate in the agricultural job market. However, according to Ben-Simhon, many more women still linger on waiting- lists. “As soon as the agricultural sector encounters any kind of problem, Israeli women are the first to lose their jobs. This causes disaffection with the industry and further discourages potential workers.” He says that as, according to Yifrah, overall taxation from employment of foreign workers amounts to IS210 million per annum, this money should be spent on professional development for Israeli agricultural workers and on better incentives for employers to prefer Israeli to foreign workers.
“The tax does not achieve its goals, and farmers still feel better off employing foreign workers,” says Ben-Simhon. He adds that in order to solve the problem “the government must reduce the number of foreign workers in agriculture, just as it did in the building industry in the mid 1990’s. A decision to do just that was taken in 2009, but the government has not carried it through. The agricultural lobby is “a very strong and vocal one, and so far has not been subdued.”