The deal between Israeli farmers and the Israeli government will deepen unemployment among Arab women

<The deal reached by Israeli farmers with the Ministers of Finance and Agriculture – to exempt them from paying a special tax on employing migrant workers – is a capitulation to the farmers’ lobby. It will exacerbate the present crisis in agriculture as well as deepen unemployment among local women farm workers.</strong></p>
<p>On October 7 it was announced publicly that the government and the farmers have reached an deal, by which the farmers would be either fully or partially exempted from paying the special tax on employing migrant workers; they would also be able to deduct 530 NIS for food and lodging from these workers’ salaries. In addition, one learned of ongoing advanced negotiations between the farmers’ organizations and the government about increasing the quota of migrant workers (Ora Koren, The Marker, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2015).</p>
<p>This deal harms any possibility of employing Israeli citizens in agriculture, especially Arab women, of whom only 30% are working. It leaves the farming crisis intact, places an added obstacle to modernization in agriculture, enables the illegal exploitation of migrant workers, and increases unemployment in Arab communities. Dozens of women report daily to the WAC-MAAN offices in search of agricultural jobs. Over the years, dozens of farmers have employed thousands of Arab women workers organized as members of WAC-MAAN, who have thus been taken out of the vicious circle of unemployment and poverty.</p>
<p>WAC-MAAN demands that the government subsidize agriculture as is the norm in developed countries; it supports the farmers in their demands to lower the cost of water for agriculture, revoke privatization of the guidance offered by the Ministry of Agriculture, renew aid to exporters, and promote agricultural planning. The farmers are right in their claim that importing inexpensive vegetables from Europe – where agriculture is subsidized – is absurd. However, WAC-MAAN vehemently opposes the farmers’ demand to turn agriculture into a branch that wholly depends on migrant workers, while tens of thousands of local workers are in desperate need of jobs.</p>
<p>The deal exposed the fact that the farmers’ organizations timed their media campaign to coincide with a lack of vegetables on the market, and an insane rise in prices, in order to blackmail the public into accepting additional migrant workers. While the government and the farmers entered a collision course after the government approved importing a limited amount of farm products before the holidays, and the farmers threatened to charge the Knesset with their tractors, suddenly the parties reached an deal that only exacerbates the deeper problems. This makes superfluous the joint committee of government and farmers that was set up to cope with the agriculture crisis and consolidate a long-term policy.</p>
<p>The farmers’ lobby is joined by the manpower firms. A bilateral agreement of the governments of Thailand and Israel in May 2011, enforcing supervision over the import of migrant workers, lowered the brokerage fees that workers must pay in order to come to Israel from $9000 to somewhere between $1000 and $2000 (according to a report by the Department of Immigration Studies at the Ruppin Academic Center, July 2014). This agreement cut into the easy profits made by the manpower firms, some of which are linked to the farmers’ organizations. The situation of Thai workers here was strengthened, enabling them to bring numerous legal charges against farmers. Now the powers-that-be are attempting to turn the wheel backwards.</p>
<p>The present deal with the farmers is opposed to what has been government policy since 2007. The policy was based on a comprehensive report by Prof. Zvi Eckstein, deputy to the then-Commissioner of the Bank of Israel, stating that continuing to import migrant workers for agriculture has no economic or social justification and must be ended. This was the context in which the agreement with Thailand’s government was signed.</p>
<p>WAC-MAAN demands from the Government to cancel the deal with the Farmers. A responsible agricultural policy must promote a long-term plan enabling development so as to ensure a supply of fruit and vegetables to the market at a reasonable price. It must be a plan that will offer stability and assurance to the farmers, while creating employment for local workers in accordance with the rights to which the law entitles them.</p>
<p>Translation : Tal Haran</p>

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