First batch of 64 Indian workers from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh leave for Israel

The recruitment process in India sped up after Israel banned Palestinian workers following October 7 attacks; safety, ethical concerns raised by workers’ groups; no clarity on whether workers will be posted in conflict zones

April 03, 2024 12:17 am | Updated 06:40 am IST - NEW DELHI

The first group of 64 workers were recruited over the past few months during a massive drive in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Photo: X/@NaorGilon

The first group of 64 workers were recruited over the past few months during a massive drive in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Photo: X/@NaorGilon

The first batch of Indian construction workers bound for jobs in Israel during the conflict there were flagged off by Israeli ambassador Naor Gilon and government officials on April 2.

The Israeli government raised an urgent request for construction workers in November 2023 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had discussed fast-tracking the process with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December as the country faced major labour shortages after it banned thousands of Palestinians from working in Israel following the terror strikes by Hamas on October 7.

The first group of 64 workers were recruited over the past few months during a massive drive in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They are part of a requisitioned 10,000-strong workforce that will be flown to Israel over the next few weeks, with batches due to fly almost every day on board Air India and even chartered flights, the National Skill Development Council said in a presentation made during the farewell event hosted by the Israeli Embassy.

Inter-governmental arrangement

While government officials had earlier said they were part of business-to-business recruitment, the Ministry of External Affairs subsequently clarified that the workers were travelling to Israel under a government-to-government arrangement, as part of the India-Israel mobility partnership signed in 2023.

“This is an outcome of hard work of many, including NSDC India. I am sure that the workers [will] become ‘ambassadors’ of the great [people to people] relations between India and Israel,” Mr. Gilon said on a social media platform.

Safety concerns

The decision to send the workers comes despite the MEA’s own advisory on the safety of Indian labour in Israel issued by the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv on March 5, “in view of the prevailing security situation”. It advised all Indian nationals in Israel, especially those working in the border areas in the north and south, to relocate to safer areas in the country. The advisory had followed a missile strike by Hezbollah militants that killed one Indian and injured two others working at an orchard in Margaliot along Israel’s northern borders.

The MEA declined to respond to queries over whether the government has received any assurances that the Indians now being sent for construction work will only be assigned to “safe areas”, or whether they may be employed in border areas, Gaza, or even in occupied Israeli settlements not recognised by India. As Israel is not on the list of “Emigration Clearance Required” (ECR) countries, registration for the workers is not mandatory on the MEA’s eMigrate portal, Minister of State (MoS) V. Muraleedharan said in a parliamentary reply on February 9. 

Ethical issues

“As per the Framework Agreement and Implementation Protocols signed with Israel, Indian workers shall enjoy equal treatment with respect to labour rights as Israeli citizens and shall be provided with proper lodging, medical insurance and relevant social security coverage as well as wages and benefits as set out in law,” he added.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions had urged the government not to send the workers, raising questions about ethical issues given that the Indian workers are meant to replace Palestinian workers during the conflict.

According to the presentation by NSDC officials at the event, the Indian skill development agency had received a demand for 10,000 construction workers from the Israeli employment agency PIBA on November 15 last year, including 3,000 men for formwork, 3,000 for iron bending and welding, 2,000 for plastering, and 2,000 for ceramic tiling. After proficiency tests carried out in the two States of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, 9,727 workers were found to have qualified, and are being offered contracts to travel to Israel. With the first batch of 64 leaving on Tuesday, an estimated 1,500 Indians will leave for work in Israel over April, the officials said.

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