Construction workers in Israel: A campaign against workplace accidents creates possibilities for change

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<p>The recent public campaign against accidents within the construction industry has created new possibilities for change and for workers' empowerment.</p>
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Since the 1990’s, Israel’s construction industry has been characterised by anarchy, mass entry of  migrants, a largely temporary workforce, and a move towards sub-contracting. This has created a decline in health and safety standards, resulting in increased work-related fatal accidents and injuries. The recent public campaign against accidents within the construction industry has created new possibilities for change and for workers’ empowerment.

Names of workers killed in construction accident in January 2016 published by Coalition to fight Construction Accidents

Names of workers killed in construction accident in January 2016 published by Coalition to fight Construction Accidents

Osama Natur of Arara in Israel lost his father, Taufik, 64, in a construction-site accident in 2007. Taufik was killed in Tel Aviv while plastering when the rail of the scaffold he was standing on collapsed because of the contractor’s negligence.

Three men were charged of causing Taufik’s death by negligence: the main works contractor, the foreman and the scaffolding contractor. However, when Osama wanted to understand what had gone wrong and approached the relevant authorities, he was met with a blanket refusal to hand over information. In 2010 he managed to find out the time and place of the last hearing in the trial of the three men. On arrival at the court, he was horrified to discover that a plea bargain had been reached, according to which the three men pleaded guilty to causing death by negligence and received a fine of NIS 6,700 each; the main contractor was also sentenced to six months of community service.

It is difficult to describe the frustration and anger felt by Osama and his family, as well as others, as a result of this case, which is typical of the way in which such workplace accidents are responded to by the authorities. According to recent figures published by the Knesset Information Centre, out of 184 accidental deaths in the construction industry between the years 2010-2014, only 90 cases were investigated and only 11 prosecuted. This means that over 90% of construction workers’ deaths were never scrutinised by the court system, with the result that those responsible for criminal negligence continue unimpeded as before.

This view of the reality was confirmed by the National Contractors Registrar during a Knesset Work and Welfare Committee meeting which took place on February 9, 2016. The Registrar revealed that on no occasion during the past decade has he been in a position to revoke a contractor’s licence to operate. Such a revocation would require a criminal negligence conviction, and no such conviction took place during that period.

On average, two construction workers suffer serious injury every day. In 2014 there were 569 serious injuries, a 20% rise compared to 2011. One construction worker is killed every one or two weeks on average, amounting to about 30 deaths per year. Despite these shocking figures, no one seemed to care until a few months ago: the injured and the dead are Arabs from Israel or Palestinians from the West Bank, or else they are migrant workers from China or Eastern Europe.

Members of the Coalition from left Adv. Gadir Nikola, Coalition leader Hadas Tagari, Construction worker who lost his father in accident Osama Natur, WAC MAAN Director Assaf Adiv, ACRI Manager Sharon Avraham – Weis

Members of the Coalition from left Adv. Gadir Nikola, Coalition leader Hadas Tagari, Construction worker who lost his father in accident Osama Natur, WAC MAAN Director Assaf Adiv, ACRI Manager Sharon Avraham – Weis

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About Assaf Adiv