Israel's unemployment rate is lower than it has been in decades, officials said Monday. That includes the hotel and hospitality industry, said Yoav Bachar, deputy director of personnel in the Israel Hoteliers Association.
In an interview, Bachar said that there was a severe lack of workers in the Israeli hotel industry. While the hotel business has been booming in the last couple of years, he said – Israeli hotels recorded 22 million overnight stays altogether in 2001 – as many as 4,000 workers were needed to provide the proper level of service.
“We are missing some 4,000 workers in hotels in Israel, mostly in Eilat, the Dead Sea, and Tel Aviv,” Bachar said. “Each day we truck in hundreds of workers – including many Bedouin – from the south and the Arab communities in the 'Triangle' [an area west of Hadera populated mainly by Israeli Arabs, whose towns form a large triangle on the mao, ed.], to Tel Aviv to fill positions. Unfortunately there is nowhere to bring in workers from for hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea, and customers feel the lack of workers.” Often, managers are forced to do menial work usually done by waiters and housekeepers, Bachar said, especially at busy times.
Bachar said that Israeli hotel prices are already considered high, and that many hotels were barely making it – so they can't afford to pay wages that would draw more Israeli Jews. As a result, he said, hotels have been making do with Arabs and foreign workers, and have been recruiting Sudanese refugees to work in Eilat and the Dead Sea. But the Sudanese aren't suckers either, he said. “We have to find housing for them and their families, plus pay insurance and other expenses, as well as pay them salaries similar to the other workers. The bottom line is that Sudanese workers are more expensive than Israeli workers today.”
Most hotels paid their non-management staff minimum wage (currently NIS 22.04 per hour) or slightly more, Bachar said, and hotels were constantly “filching” workers who were willing to work for wages in that neighborhood from each other. “The ones who pay the price are the customers, who are sometimes forced to wait for a long time until someone can be found to prepare their rooms or provide other services.” Bachar added that he did not believe that Israelis would take hotel jobs, even if higher wages were offered. “Israelis just don't want these jobs,” he said.
At a press conference Tuesday on the eve of the annual meeting of the Association, the group's President, Ami Federman, said that Israeli hotels had expenses that hotels in Europe did not – such as security, kashruth inspectors, lifeguards, and other ancillary staff – that raised payroll costs for Israeli hotels, costs that were passed on to the consumer. A government panel examining the high costs of vacationing in Israel that recently began work would be able to offer solutiions, Federman said, if it looked at the issues properly; for example, he said, the government could significantly lower the costs of vacations if it lowered or exempted hotels from paying local property tax (arnona), as is the case in some European countries.