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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Israeli farmers grapple with labour crisis
Palestinian farm workers
Palestinian workers must run a security gauntlet

Yitzhak Carmy runs the family farm in central Israel, growing sweet potatoes and strawberries for big-name supermarkets in Europe.


It's easier to to hire foreigners... because the foreign workers are paid nothing

Batia Tamir-Kyuris, Israeli Employment Service
In his huge covered packing yard, his hired band of nine Palestinian women sort the cleaned produce into cardboard trays.

Mr Carmy, a pistol holstered at his side, has much admiration for these women, who set off at 3am, crossing country tracks on foot to avoid military check points.

But such hardships have choked off all but a handful of the Palestinian workers necessary to keep much Israeli industry going.

Two years ago, 140,000 Palestinians could cross the border daily to earn their living - mainly in construction and farming; now, just 5,000 are allowed in.

Pastures new

To keep going, producers have gone to the other side of the world to get workers for the jobs Israelis aren't prepared to do.

Thai farm worker
Tens of thousands of Thais arrive every year
Every year, more than 26,000 Asian workers - almost all Thais - come to Israel to work as farm labourers.

Yitzhak Carmy complains that managing the business has been an uphill struggle: aside from setting aside 50 days a year for military service, he has to deal with Israel's politically charged bureaucracy.

He has been asking for permits for 45 Thai labourers, but so far he's had to make do with just 12.

Red tape

"Even if they give you the permission to hire foreign workers, I don't have the permit from the government, or the visa," Mr Carmy says.

Yitzhak
Mr Carmy has constant battles with bureaucrats

The farmers and other employers are up against a government that's grasping for ways to shore up the flagging Israeli economy.

Unemployment among Israelis now stands at 10%, and the number of foreign workers - mainly from Eastern Europe and Asia - now exceeds the number of Israelis out of a job.

The government is pleading with employers to hire more locals.

"It's easier to to hire foreigners and it's easier to hire servants because the foreign workers are paid nothing," says Batia Tamir-Kyuris, of the Israeli Employment Service.

Generous treatment

Back on the farm, Yitzhak Carmy says he pays his Thai labourers more than the Israeli minimum wage of $600 per month.

In addition, he also provides accomodation and food.

The problem, he says, is that Israelis won't exchange their generous unemployment benefits for this tough type of work.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Nick Mackie
"The security clampdown has barred all but a handful of Palestinians"
See also:

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