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First batch of Indian workers going to Israel under G2G agreement, says envoy

NEW DELHI: With Israeli authorities on Tuesday unveiling a move to send the first batch of Indian construction workers to Israel under a government-to-government agreement, there was no clarity on whether the Indian side had signed off on the move.

Israeli ambassador Naor Gilon said he was sure the construction workers would become ‘ambassadors’ of the great people-to-people relations between the two countries. (X/NaorGilon)

Israel announced plans to recruit tens of thousands of workers from India and other countries, mainly to replace Palestinian labour whose work permits were revoked after the start of the conflict with Hamas last October. During a phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for “advancing the arrival” of workers from India.

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Israeli ambassador Naor Gilon said in a post on X that an event was organised on Tuesday for the first batch of Indian workers going to Israel. He also posted photographs of himself with the workers and the CEO of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), Ved Mani Tiwari.

“Today we had a farewell event from the first batch of 60+ Indian construction workers going to Israel under the G2G agreement. This is an outcome of hard work of many, including @NSDCINDIA. I’m sure that the workers become ‘ambassadors’ of the great P2P relations between [India and Israel],” Gilon posted.

The NSDC is a public limited company set up by the finance ministry under the public-private partnership (PPP) model and provides skill development and vocational training to Indian workers. The NSDC has been part of events held in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to interview and screen workers wishing to work in Israel.

There was no word on the development from the Indian side, including the external affairs ministry, which monitors employment abroad.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told a media briefing on March 8 that the G2G agreement for sending Indian workers to Israel is “still in the works”.

People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that Israel is a member country of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and has stringent labour laws and other regulations related to the safety of workers.

However, several labour unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions and All India Trade Union Congress, and rights groups have questioned the move to send Indian workers to Israel without adequate guarantees for their safety, and pointed to an advisory issued by the Indian embassy on March 5 that asked Indian nationals in regions affected by the Israel-Hamas conflict to move to safe areas.

The advisory was issued after an Indian worker was killed and two more were injured when a missile fired by Hezbollah struck an Israeli agricultural community in Galilee. There are currently about 18,000 Indians, including care-givers and professionals, in Israel.

Hundreds of workers from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have done tests for jobs in masonry, carpentry, tiling and bar-bending in Israel’s construction sector in recent months. This followed India and Israel signing an agreement on November 3, 2023 on “facilitation of temporary employment of Indian workers” in two sectors – construction and home-based caregivers.

A pamphlet on the NSDC website stated there are 3,000 jobs each for framework workers and bar-benders, and 2,000 jobs each for tiling and platering. The jobs offer a monthly salary of 137,000, it stated. Another pamphlet bearing the NSDC’s logo said workers will have to pay for their travel and relocation, and also pay taxes, a social security insurance fee and a monthly health insurance fee.

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