Histadrut Threatens General Strike Due to Rise in Building Accidents

Israel’s largest workers union, the Histadrut Labor Federation, is planning a labor dispute and is considering calling a general strike in early October following the latest in a rash of construction site accidents which have resulted in the death of dozens of workers since January of this year.

An ambulance crew evacuates a construction worker injured during an accident at a building site in Ramat-Gan, September 6, 2018

An ambulance crew evacuates a construction worker injured during an accident at a building site in Ramat-Gan, September 6, 2018 (Photo: Magen David Adom)

On August 14, two workers fell to their deaths from the 13-floor of a building under construction in the city of Rosh HaAyin in central Israel when the scaffolding they were on suddenly collapsed. Electra Construction, the company operating the site, had been warned 10 times by the Israeli Ministry of Labor since 2012 about defects discovered at its construction sites. Electra Construction is just one of many exhibitors of such gross negligence. Yet over the past eight years, during which time the registrar has revoked the licenses of some 2,700 contractors, it has never once done so due to safety lapses.

Recently, Hadash and Communist Party of Israel activists involved in the struggle against building site accidents held a demonstration outside the offices of the CEO of Electra in Tel Aviv to protest the firm’s deadly record. Communist labor activist and member of the Histadrut leadership, Dahil Khamed, said at the protest that “data show some 30 workers have been killed since the beginning of 2018 because of safety defects at construction sites, an increase of 40% compared to the same period in 2017.”

Another Communist labor activist, Efraim Davidi, wrote in the CPI’s weekly, Hebrew-language paper, Zu Haderech: “Over the past two years, far-right Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz has repeatedly promised to declare war on construction accidents, but the war so far has been weak and hesitant. The construction companies take cynical advantage of this governmental apathy to increase their profits. The lethal combination of a regulator fleeing from its responsibility and companies seeking to maximize their profits will continue to claim victims, generally members of weak, unprotected groups like Palestinians or migrant workers.”

“Even his [Katz’] grandiose declarations about his success in imposing fines on contractors and employers have proved to be premature: A special police unit to investigate construction accidents is only scheduled to start work next year. The far-right government’s attitude toward construction accidents is apathetic and dismissive. Its lack of effective action and its many failures to act are responsible for the fact that workers lives have become the construction industry’s cheapest resource.”