Indians queue up for jobs in Israel as war rages in Gaza

Israel is recruiting workers to meet construction demand after banning Palestinians

Construction workers at a recruitment drive for jobs in Israel, in Lucknow, northern India. Those selected can earn six times what they would at home. AFP
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Thousands of unemployed Indians are flocking to recruitment centres to apply for construction jobs in Israel, despite the war raging in Gaza.

Israeli officials are in India to hire workers for their country's building sector, which is facing an acute labour shortage because tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are banned from crossing into Israel due to the war.

Recruiters are hoping to find workers with skills in areas such as masonry and plumbing to meet the shortfall.

Special recruitment centres have been set up in the northern Indian state of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Thronging the venues are job seekers from states including Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab.

“I have been desperately looking for jobs,” said successful applicant Ravi, a construction worker, who uses a single name. “I am happy I have been selected.”

Nand Lal, another applicant, said that the large turnout was mainly because of the lucrative salaries being offered.

“I had registered at the Labour Department and received a call for the interview,” he said. “People are aware of the ongoing war, but the main reason for their interest is the salary.”

If selected, Mr Lal will get a monthly salary of 149,000 rupees ($1,800) a month in Israel.

He says it would take him six months to earn that in India.

Israel and India signed an agreement last year to allow more than 40,000 Indians to work in the nursing and construction sectors.

Similar recruitment drives will take place in China, Sri Lanka and Moldova, said Yehuda Morgenstern, director general of Israel's Ministry of Construction and Housing.

The drive in India began on January 23, with a 15-member Israeli team holding skill tests at the Industrial Training Institute in Lucknow, capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Officials hope to fill 5,000 positions.

“The labourers are being selected in four areas, plastering, bar bending, carpentry, and masonry,” Raj Kumar Yadav, principal of the institute, told The National.

Mr Yadav said that already about 2,400 people had applied and nearly 1,700 had been selected.

“Applicants registered through the Labour Department, and we are providing the venue for the skill test,” he said.

A similar recruitment drive took place last week at a private university in Rohtak, in the neighbouring state of Haryana.

Monitors showed applicants giving a live demonstration of their plastering skills to Israeli interviewers.

The recruitment drive is being undertaken in association with the National Skill Development Corporation, an Indian government recruitment agency.

Uttar Pradesh Labour Minister Anil Rajbhar called the drive a “huge opportunity” for Indian workers and that this would help further deepen the ties between the country and Israel.

“Workers have an important role in building the country and strengthening the economy … whoever gets selected should go to Israel with full morale and work hard and with dedication,” Mr Rajbhar said.

The high interest in working in Israel – even though it's at war – underlines India’s growing unemployment crisis, as the world’s most populous country struggles to create enough jobs for its 1.4 billion people.

Unemployment stood at 8.65 per cent in December, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. Among the 20 to 24 age group, the rate was as high as 44 per cent.

Every year, many Indians migrate to other countries for employment opportunities, with some taking illegal routes or falling victim to unscrupulous job agents.

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

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

However, some organisations have criticised the Indian government for holding recruitment drives for Israel, which has been widely condemned for its treatment of Palestinians.

About 25,500 Palestinians – mostly women and children – have been killed in Israel's onslaught on Gaza. This was launched after Hamas militants in Gaza attacked nearby Israeli communities on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting 240.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government to end the arrangement with Israel.

“CITU appeals to the Indian workers not to fall prey to the abetment of the BJP-led government … and states for going for jobs in Israel, which is itself a conflict-torn area and its [government] is rendering thousands of Palestinians working in Israel jobless while carrying out genocidal attacks on Palestine,” CITU general secretary Tapan Sen said.

Updated: January 26, 2024, 12:33 PM