Government Introduces Incentive Program for Construction Workers
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) both signed an agreement with the Association of National Builders and the Construction Workers' Union Sunday to reward Jewish employees in the construction business.
The program, which will be enacted within the next several weeks, will absorb about 2,000 new Israeli workers in the mostly-Arab construction industry, and would allow them a starting salary of at least 9,000 shekel per month ($2,602; significantly higher than minimum wage - ed.).
Government funding for the initiative is estimated at over 90 million shekel (approx. 26 million dollars), and is designed to help skilled Israelis integrate into the industry, proponents say.
The program is designed to provide advantages for both employees and for contractors; while workers receive the guarantee of a stable - and considerable - salary, with the possibility of advancement, employers will receive government subsidies to train the new workers, lessening the financial burden on large companies.
Bennett hailed the move Sunday as an "active step" toward improving the Israeli economy.
"The shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry has deep implications for the Israeli economy," Bennett stated. "It causes an increase in construction costs and housing prices - and, as a result, it forces the government to bring foreign workers into the economy, [as well as impeding our] goal to reduce unemployment."
"Today, the government has taken an active step to solve this shortage by [improving] the flow of resources and training inexperienced workers who would benefit from NIS 9,000 from the beginning," he continued. "If I had such an opportunity on the day I was discharged [from Army service - ed], I would consider it seriously."
Lapid agreed, adding that the move eases Israel's housing crisis.
"Training Israeli workers in the construction industry in our country is a necessary step in our mission to lower housing prices," Lapid said. "Integrating thousands of Israelis in the construction industry will help contractors and will increase in new housing projects, increasing the housing supply in Israel."
Lapid also touched on the government initiative to integrate the hareidi community in the workforce.
"At the same time, giving [free] training and incentive in this field is an important step that will help to integrate the Haredim in the labor market," the Finance Minister added.
Bennett and others have long linked the need to increase hareidi integration into the workforce with the construction industry, citing the high demand for Jewish workers in a field which involves a fairly minimal amount of training and the promise of a semi-steady income.
A Labor Force survey recently revealed that during the first quarter of 2014, the employment rate of Haredi men was just 44.5% - significantly lower than the general rate of employment of men of working age (25-64), which is around 81%; Sunday's decision follows a controversial law passed last month to begin an "Affirmative Action"-type program to encourage hareidi employment, providing extra incentives to employers and businessmen to add hareidi men to the workforce.