Indian workers queue up to get jobs in Israel, undeterred by conflict

Indian workers queue up to get jobs in Israel, undeterred by conflict

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank. FILE/REUTERS.

Thousands of men in India’s northern state of Haryana queued in during a recruitment drive aimed at sending workers to Israel, where the offensive in Gaza, now in its fourth month, has caused a shortage of labour.

Masons, painters, electricians, plumbers, and some farmers expressed their interest in seeking employment in Israel. Despite the risks associated with entering a conflict zone, many were willing to take the chance, driven by the prospect of earning five times more money in a year than they would at home.

“There is unemployment here and it’s because of it that people want to leave,” said Lekharam, a mason who was among the workers gathered at a recruitment camp in Rohtak, 66 km (40 miles) from the capital, New Delhi.

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“If it’s in our destiny to die, then we can die either here or there. My hope is that we will go and do good work and spend some time and come back.”
India, now the world’s most populous nation with a population of 1.4 billion, has an urban unemployment rate of 6.6%, government data shows, but more than 17% of workers younger than 29 are unemployed and others work as casual labour.

Unemployment and underemployment are a key concern for authorities, despite world-beating economic growth of 7.3%.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesperson on Thursday said an agreement on labour mobility with Israel was signed before the conflict erupted last year.

“The idea behind this agreement was to put in place an institutional mechanism to regulate migration and ensure the rights of people who go there are protected,” said Randhir Jaiswal, the spokesperson.

“Labour laws in Israel are very strict and robust…we are very conscious of our responsibility to provide safety to our people abroad,” he told reporters.

This month an Israeli financial daily said,  the country planned to bring in about 70,000 foreign workers from China, India and elsewhere to boost its construction sector, which has come to a standstill since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.

India’s National Skills Development Corporation canvassed in recent weeks for workers to live and work in Israel.

Recruiters at the camp refused to comment on the drive. Vivek Sharma, a 28-year-old mason, said he was aware of the risks in Israel from the conflict but was willing to take the risk if he could earn more.

“Yes, I am aware of the conflict, but I can earn a lot of money in a short time,” said Sharma, who estimates he could end up earning more than a million Indian rupees ($12,000) by working in Israel for a year. “It could take me at least five years to earn the same amount of money in India.”

Government data shows about 13 million Indian nationals work overseas as labourers, professionals, and experts. Israel and India signed an agreement last year to allow more than 40,000 Indians to work in the Jewish state in the nursing and construction sectors.

With inputs from agencies.

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