New directives to ease situation on farms due to risk of contagion among foreign workers

Farms depend on foreign workers and require a housing solution to prevent mass contagion.

Arutz Sheva staff ,

MK Sharren Haskel
MK Sharren Haskel
Yoni Kempinski

By now most of us are familiar with the ramifications of the novel coronavirus on all sectors of the economy, but one area that hasn’t received as much attention is the agricultural sector. Dependent on a supply of foreign workers to keep production levels stable, the outbreak of coronavirus among those very workers could potentially ruin farmers.

MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) appealed to the Agriculture Ministry to implement measures making it easier for farmers to deal with the crisis, highlighting some of the specific issues farmers have to contend with. Foreign workers are usually housed on agricultural land, living in very close quarters. If one of them was to begin showing symptoms of coronavirus and had to be quarantined, adhering to the Health Ministry’s guidelines would be virtually impossible, with nowhere to place the affected worker in quarantine. Furthermore, once one worker contracts the virus, the chances of it swiftly spreading to the others is extremely high, giving the high density in their living quarters. And if a farm’s entire foreign worker contingent falls ill, the farm is likely to collapse entirely with losses of revenue amounting to the hundreds of thousands of shekels.

In order to address this, several farmers requested permission from the local authorities to erect additional, temporary structures to house their foreign workers in more spacious surrounding. To their frustration, they were stymied by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), which refused to grant permission, and by the local authorities themselves, whose bureaucratic process for obtaining the necessary permits takes months to complete – in the best case scenario.

Haskel wrote to Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), outlining the problem, and in an update on her Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday, she wrote that a solution had been found to the most urgent of the issues.

“Foreign workers employed in agriculture are usually housed together, and if one of them displays symptoms of being infected by the coronavirus, he cannot be isolated from the other workers [because of a lack of housing], which means that the economic survival of the entire farm is at risk if even just one of the workers falls sick,” Haskel wrote on her Facebook page.

She added that, “The immediate solution to this problem is to provide the farms with additional caravans, so that the population density of the workers can be reduced, and, if necessary, sick workers can be quarantined. The existing regulations of the local authorities and ILA prevented the farmers from doing this – the bureaucratic process for obtaining permits [to erect additional caravans] takes months in the best case scenario and years in the worst.”

Haskel thanked Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi for his prompt response to her request. The new directives issued by the Ministry allow each farmer to add one temporary structure without making any prior request, and the erection of additional buildings with the approval of the regional director on behalf of the Agriculture Ministry.

In addition, the directives state that since these are temporary structures, farmers will not have to pay fees for them until the end of the crisis period, which has been given a provisional end date of July 31st, 2020, but could be extended.