Kav LaOved wishes to point international attention to recent publications, which expose a silent, legalised, and foul co-operation between the Chinese and Israeli governments.
Tens of thousands of workers are brought from China to Israel. These workers borrow thousands of dollars to pay for promised employment. As they meet their prospective employers, however, over half of them find that they have no real jobs. They remain penniless and without shelter. They are not allowed to work for another employer and are destined to be arrested for seeking alternative illegal employment. Eventually they will be deported back to China, where they will face unpayable debts. The press reports uncover the political and economic interests behind this legalised scam. They outline the Chinese negligence as well as Israeli sinister exploitation.
Kav LaOved is asking you to join the protest against both governments, and against this systematic violation of human rights. We require international exposure, protest letters, and other direct and indirect means of pressure. We believe that a strong international appeal might pressure decision-makers to end this scandal.
About Kav LaOved
Kav LaOved is an Israeli NGO, which defends the rights of disadvantaged workers. We help migrant workers, Palestinians, and other low earners, to face their daily rations of abuse, exploitation, and distress.
Kav LaOved, founded 1990, is active both on the individual and public levels. On the individual level, we helped over 2000 workers win over $3,000,000 during the year 2001 alone. On the public level we are involved in legal activism against employers and state agencies, as well as in lobbying and advocacy campaigns. We have had important achievements in the areas of regulation and legislation, media coverage, and the raising of public awareness.
In the last decade, due to frequent closures and lack of access to Palestinian workers, Israel has opened its gates to a migrant workers community, which now stands at 250,000 people - some 10% of local workforce. The rights of these workers are obtusely and cruelly violated by the very employers and authorities, which work so hard to import them. While migrant work is a common phenomenon, the deliberate and institutionalised import of unemployment is probably an Israeli first.
Yedioth Acharonot, Weekend Supplement
December 7, 2001
You Have So Many Unemployed, What Do You Need Us For?
Oron Meiri, Meron Rappaport, and Ofer Petersburg
There are in Israel today 23,000 legal Chinese migrant workers. Only 10,000 of them have steady work. So who profits from bringing 13,000 unemployed Chinese to Israel? First of all, the so-called handlers, who receive thousands of dollars from each Chinese worker, even if he doesnt put in a single days work. Secondly, the contractors, who conceal hundreds of millions of dollars in income at the expense of the Chinese workers fictitiously registered with them. Thirdly, the grabbers, who pick them up
every morning at the intersections because they are ready to do any work for next to nothing. Every Chinese worker here has mortgaged his life in China in order to reach Israel and he has no way of getting back. Still they are thrown out of cars on the way from the airport. This is the way the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Shlomo Benizri, fights unemployment.
(This is the first article in series on the subject.)
I see the figures on unemployment.we examined the subject and learned that a large number of illegal migrant workers dont work in construction or agriculture but in hotels and restaurants and cleaning private houses, thus taking the place of Israeli workers. Today, when we are at such a low point
and so many workers have been fired from the hotels, why do I have to bring migrant workers to take their place? I dont understand why in some restaurant a slant-eyed person has to bring me my food. An Israeli wouldnt agree to do that? (Shlomo Benizri, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare,
in Yedioth Acharonot, May 2001)
He is right, Benizri, so right. He doesnt have to say so in such a racist
manner. After all, people with slanted eyes have not yet done anyone here
any harm, but it is true that the last thing that Israel needs nowadays is
migrant workers to compete with 250,000 unemployed Israelis. It is
surprising, therefore, that the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, of
which he is the head, allows the superfluous import of thousands of migrant
workers or, if we can be more precise, thousands of unemployable migrants.
The new about-to-be-unemployed Chinese workers arrive here every week on
Wednesday night on Flight 095 of El Al from Beijing. In the contracts they
have been asked to sign in China, they are promised work in construction
that will contribute to the development of the country. Some of them
actually are integrated into construction work but thousands of them
discover during the first few months of their employment on the building
sites that nobody intends to pay them the wages promised them in China and
they are soon out in the streets. Sometimes the rude awakening is even
sooner. A friend of mine arrived from China a month ago, reports Neeu,
one of the unemployed Chinese who lives right now in Pardess Katz [a poor
suburb near Tel Aviv]. He arrived at the airport, his passport was taken
away from him, he was taken in a car and after two kilometers everyone who
arrived with him was told to get out of the car because there was no work
and everyone had to look for work for himself.
At this point it should be emphasized that we are speaking about legal
migrant workers, people who arrive with permits to work in the building
industry. They are people who have personally been signed on in the
presence of Israeli contractors and representative of Chinese and Israel
manpower agencies after they received all the necessary permits from the
Labor and Social Welfare and Interior ministries. It is only after arriving
in this country that they discover that there is no work for them. At 6:30
in the morning one can see them in Bnei Barak (a town not far from Tel
Aviv). They stand at the intersection of Jabontinsky and Aaronowitz streets
(locally known as the slave market), trying to obtain work for the day
(The slave market is a term that was carried over from the days before the
first Intifada, when Arab workers from the occupied territories stood there
for the same purpose.) Similar markets exist in Haifa, in Modiin and in
According to a rather cautious estimate, there are 13,000 unemployed
Chinese workers stuck in Israel, from the total of 23,000, here legally. In
other words, 60 percent of them were brought here needlessly.
For the Israelis, its a nuisance, for the Chinese themselves a
catastrophe. In order to get here in the first place they had to pay the
Chinese and Israel manpower agencies between $2800 to $10,000, a fortune in
Chinese terms. No Chinese building worker has that kind of money. They are
forced to go into debt, to take loans from all their friends and
acquaintances, or to mortgage everything they own. In China they were told
that they would be able to repay the loan within a year. In Israel the
bubble blew up in their faces.
Now they are here. They have no money to buy a ticket home, their passports
have been taken from them by the manpower agencies -- the ones who threw
them into the street in the first place and are now demanding further
payment if they want their passports back. At home, their creditors are
waiting with bared teeth. The thing I want most right now is to get my
things together, get back my money from the Chinese manpower agency and get
the hell out of here, says Yun, a worker who has been stuck in Pardess
Katz for a year. But I know that if I dont get the money, I will be
stoned when I return to the village.
So, why in hell are they here, these people who get on Benizris nerves?
Who brought them here? Why were they given empty promises? In whose
interest is it to flood the labor market with thousands more unemployed?
How is it that people like that continue to arrive every week, even today?
How is it that the Contractors Association and the Ministry of Housing are
continually carping about the lack of construction workers when all the
intersections in Pardess Katz are flooded with Chinese workers dying for a
days work? Every single one of the more than 10,000 Chinese workers is
registered with a contractor. How is it that the contractors complained
that only 4000 Chinese workers ran away from their lawful employers? Why
doesnt the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare put an end to this
Pandemonium? Can it be that one of the greatest tax scams in the history of
the state of Israel is going on right under our noses?
The importing of Chinese workers to Israel began about five years ago, when
the real estate market was flourishing and it was hard to find enough
workers. The Chinese construction workers, who earn between $100 to $200 a
month in China, constituted a large reservoir of working hands. Since they
specialized in the finishing touches -- putting in tile floors and
painting -- they were brought here in addition to the other building workers from Turkey and Rumania.
The whole business gradually became established. Like mushrooms after the
rain, manpower agencies sprang up in Israel and China whose sole purpose
was in finding the suitable workers and bringing them to Israel. The
applicants were promised $4-5 an hour and Israel was marketed to them as
the gateway to a quick fortune. At the beginning, the Chinese agencies
asked only $2500 for bringing them to Israel and arranging a visa. In time
the price went up to $5000. Some of the money remained in the hands of the
Chinese agents but most of it flowed into the hands of the Israeli manpower
agencies, which made at least $3000 on every Chinese worker brought into
As long as there was work the whole business was tough but on the up and
up. Here and there, it is true, there were complaints about the Israeli
employers who didnt pay what they had promised, or about impossible
working conditions or about the degrading attitude of the employers to their
workers. But as long as these were localized complaints, nobody was ruffled.
The workers continued to arrive and Israeli public opinion grew apathetic.
This was due in no small part to the Benizris and their ilk who never
stopped denouncing the illegal migrant workers in the country. The migrant
workers are suffering? Too bad, let them suffer. Theyve come here to work
not to have a good time.
But in time it became clear that they were not even coming here to work.
The real estate market fell into a deep slumber, and building starts dropped
from 60,000 to 30,000 in the last year because of the Intifada. The number
of migrant workers, however, did not drop. It even grew. It was simple: the
manpower agencies realized that it was more profitable to bring Chinese
workers here -- after being paid thousands of dollars to do so -- than to
employ them once they were here. Thus, at a time when construction in
Israel has hit its lowest point, these traffickers in human beings run
around to building contractors, urging them to request more and more
working hands from the Labor Exchange . In return, these handlers promise
the contractor thousands of dollars for every worker that reaches Israel
without his having to employ him for even a single day. Is it any wonder,
then, that the contractors go along with the ploy?
Chinese workers -- thats where the money is, says Batya Carmon, head of
the visa section in the Ministry of Interior. They pay more for them than
for any other worker. Its a business in the billions. It pays to bring
them here even if theyre not given jobs. They bring people who are not even
skilled workers. Nobody needs them. The handlers come to contractors or
farmers, asking them to sign a form for the Labor Exchange and pay them for
What makes it worthwhile to bring the Chinese workers here is the sum each
one of them has to pay to for the right to work -- $5-8000, says David
Mena, the former director general of the Labor Exchange. After a month or
two the worker finds himself in the streets, either because he is not
skilled or because the contractors have nothing for him to do -- after they
receive their share of the fee from the handler. The guy has mortgaged his
house in China and is now completely bankrupt. Theyre letting him go to
the dogs. They tell the contractor: Well get you workers as long as you
put in a request for more than you need. Thats great for the contractor
who is under pressure to find more working hands. Their condition is that
the workers be Chinese. Thats where the big money is. A week ago I got a
call like that. One of the handlers offered me $1200 for every worker I
import through him. If the contractor is desperate hell be overjoyed at
the offer. That way the handler brings in another fifty workers at his
expense. Either theyll have work when they arrive or they wont. Sometimes
it is worth to the contractor that they dont work at all. Its all a loop
that begins from above, with the Labor Exchange, through the manpower
companies and, sometimes, through the contractor. And the guy paying for it
all is the Chinese worker. And were talking about an awful lot of money.
We also have a responsibility for the Israelis living in places where
there are migrant workers.the crime rate is soaring, violence, drugs,
prostitution. Those people behave differently, disgustingly, improperly. One
of the stories going around is that they sit in the stairway shooting dope
into each other. People are scared to death because of them. They dont
leave their homes after four in the afternoon.
(Shlomo Benizri, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, in Yedioth
Acharonot, May 2001)
In the case of Pardess Katz, it wasnt the Chinese who brought crime into
the neighborhood. The old-time residents find the Chinese good neighbors,
pleasant, clean, quiet. They leave on rice and cabbage, pay the rent on
time ($100 per capita with sometimes as many as 20 in one apartment --
think of how that affects the rents in the neighborhood). And theyre
always, but always, smiling. Even when theyre really being put through the
hoops. But behind the smiles, they are very angry. I want my passport
back, says one of the men forthrightly, when he understands that we are
preparing an article on the harrowing conditions of their lives. Without my
passport I am not a free person. Its giving Israel a very bad name, when
you act like that towards the Chinese. If we dont get our passports back
we are going to make a revolution, like the cultural revolution.
At the Workers Hotline [an Israeli NGO that defends workers rights] they
know these stories by heart. Once a week, on Monday afternoons, Chinese
workers gather here. They practically all have the same complaint: there is
no work, and if there is, they dont always get paid. Chana Zohar, the head
of the organization, tells us that in the last few month they received no
less than one thousand similar complaints. Its a pretty large figure, by
any calculation, and has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since
Benizri took office.
Dozens of Chinese have gathered around us. All of them paid thousands of
dollars to come here, they all worked a month or two in construction --
sometimes three months. None of them received real wages, nothing more than
starvation wages. I worked on a building near the sea in Haifa, near the
main road, one of them tells me. He is wearing a yellow shirt and has the
beginnings of a moustache. I was given NIS 100 [$24] a month for food. I
was really starving. We would go to the market and collect things from the
ground, paying a shekel for them. In the end I left. Here too, in Pardess
Katz, its not exactly a gold mine. There is no work. Were taken to work
only from time to time and then were not always paid, he says. But its
better than starving to death on a building site in Haifa.
Yun is ready to identify himself only by his family name. He has received
us in his crowded apartment in Pardess Katz. Like most of the Chinese
workers who stand at the intersection, he comes from a small village,
Pujean, in a poor area in the south of China. A couple of months ago I saw
an ad in one of the papers promising work in Israel at $4 an hour. I
thought that that was a wonderful offer. The Chinese company that published
the ad, Po Tung, asked us for $5000. Thats a lot of money in China but I
appealed to my neighbors, to my family and friends and was finally able to
get the money together.
The minute he reached Israel, his passport was taken from him and he was
sent to a building site in Jerusalem. There have already been Chinese
workers there and they told him that the bosses didnt pay. In Jerusalem,
in the final analysis, he didnt work at all because there was no work.
From there he was sent to Rishon LeZion and then to Beersheba. It was the
same story all over again: no work, no money. He finally ended up in
Pardess Katz. A friend of his told him of the Chinese colony in the town.
My friend arranged for me to stay at an apartment with another twenty
workers. We dont have anything to eat. We manage to get a little rice and
cabbage and thats what we eat. We cant afford any more.
Phon walks around with a workers permit from a manpower company. He also
worked two months on a construction site, but he doesnt even know where it
was. He was, naturally, never paid. He asked the company to at least return
his passport to him but he was told that he would have to pay for the
privilege. He didnt dare appeal to the Chinese Embassy. But even if he
had, it wouldnt have helped very much. One of the more veteran workers
explains that he tried to go to the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv but he
wasnt allowed in. Another worker says that he, in fact, did get inside but
the clerks there told him that if he wasnt getting paid it was his
problem. If they succeed in getting the Company that hired them on the
phone, they get the same answer. If they owe you money, thats your problem.
Theyre all Ali Baba. They all lie and tell you fairy tales, says the
worker who refuses to identify himself. The Chinese and the Israelis are
in this together.
I havent told my family anything. I prefer that they not know what its
like for us here, says Yun. I have warned all my friends not to even
think of coming here. But the company goes from town to town organizing
workers and there are enough of them who never heard how they treat workers
in Israel. Some of the stories appeared in a local paper in Pujean, but it
apparently had little influence.
(This is the contract that the Chinese workers coming to Israel sign. It is
how modern slavery formulates itself.)
Work agreement between the International Company for Technological and
Economic Cooperation of the Building Association Yentai and the worker:
The purpose of this contract is to contribute to the development of the state of Israel.
I. The contract is for a period of 24 months with the possibility of extending it for another month or up to another six months. The worker must agree to the extension unconditionally.
II. Payment to the worker in Israel will be according to the conditions agreed upon in China.
III. Duties of the Company:
1.The Company will deal with all arrangements for departure [from China], including a work permit abroad.
2. The cost of these arrangements will be covered by the worker...
3. If the worker is unable to execute the work abroad, the company can return him to China, at his expense, including the price of the return air ticket.
4. The Company dealing with the departure of the worker from China, together with the Company in Israel, is responsible for the following:
- Arrangements for entering Israel
- Provision of services while he is working abroad: housing, transportation, etc.
- Medical insurance during his sojourn abroad and social security.
Comment: The local Company (in Israel) will deduct from the workers wages
$400 a month for the above-mentioned services...
- The Company abroad (in Israel) will deduct 25 percent of the wages of the worker as a handling fee.
IV. Duties of the Worker
1. The worker must make sure that his physical and professional condition
is satisfactory. If the Company abroad decides to send him back to China
for health or technical reasons, it will be at his expense, including the
cost of health insurance.
2. For a set period of time from the date of departure >from China, the
worker must pay the sum of 30,000 Yuan (about $3,200). The sum will be
divided as follows:
a. 18,000 Yuan (about $2,200) to the Israeli Company.
b. 5760 Yuan to the Chinese Company dealing with his departure from China
(for training and air tickets).
c. 5760 Yuan to the Construction Association of Yentai (for the health
certificate, innoculations, etc.).
3. The worker must deposit a guarantee with the Construction Association of
Yentai in the sum of 25,000 Yuan (about $2800) in accordance with his
economic situation. The Association will lend the worker the sum necessary
for the guarantee.
4. The guarantee will be returned to the worker if everything is in order.
5. If the return of the worker is not in order he will not receive the
expenses he paid out nor will he receive back his guarantee; members of his
family will be responsible for paying the guarantee.
Return that is not in order will be considered as following:
- If the worker broke any Israeli law.
- If the worker was involved in a strike or had problems at work or did any kind of work for another company or private person in Israel without the Companys agreement.
- If the worker was sent back to China because he broke the laws of the Yentai Company while in Israel.
- If the worker was forced to return from Israel because of health problems that he had concealed from the Company.
- If the worker wants to return to China for personal reasons before the end of the period stipulated in the contract.
6. It is the duty of the worker to obey all instructions and to protect the
good name of the Company and the good name of China.
7. If there are any damages caused by the workers behavior in Israel
--refusal to do a certain job or opposition to certain kinds of work or if
his work is unsatisfactory -- the worker must pay for the damages and the
money will be deducted from the guarantee.
8. While abroad, the worker is prohibited from taking part in any kind of
political or religious activity, or participating in any demonstration,
march or strike. If there are any problems of this nature, the project team
(representatives of the Chinese Company in Israel) can fire him. If the
problems are not solved, the worker may appeal to the team or Company in
writing, by telephone or fax, but he is absolutely prohibited from
appealing to the Chinese Embassy, their economic attaches, or to a foreign
government or non-governmental organization. If the worker violates this
statute, the Company is authorized to decide on the seriousness of the
transgression and determine the size of the fine that will be deducted from
his guarantee. Or he may be sent home.
9. The worker is forbidden, while abroad, to sign or orally agree to any
document. He is prohibited from expressing his opinion on any matter
whatsoever. The consequences of such behavior will be his fault.
10. While he is abroad, the worker does not have the right to cancel the
contract or willingly remain abroad or willingly leave the country. If he
does any of the above he forfeits all of his guarantee.
11. The worker must behave as a good Chinese citizen, decently representing
his country, and refusing to divulge any state secrets. If he violates any
of these orders, the Company will decide on the seriousness of the
transgression and determine the size of the fine to be deducted from the
12. If the worker does not return home after the period stipulated in the
contract, the Company has the right to confiscate all the money of his
guarantee and his wages abroad.
13. If the worker cannot fulfil his part of the contract and returns to
China on his own initiative, all the consequences will be as in para. 12.
Signed -- the worker
members of his family