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India workers seek jobs in Israel, undeterred by conflict

January 18, 2024 at 3:40 pm

Supporter of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s ruling party) holding flags expressing their opinions during a protest to show solidarity with Israel, on 15 October 2023, in New Delhi, India [Pradeep Gaur/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Thousands of men queued in India’s northern state of Harayana during a recruitment drive to send workers to Israel, where the offensive in Gaza, now in its fourth month, has caused a shortage of labour, Reuters reports.

Masons, painters, electricians, plumbers and some farmers said they were looking for jobs in Israel, with some willing to risk going into a conflict zone because they could make 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.

“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 per cent, government data shows, but more than 17 per cent of workers younger than 29 are unemployed and others work as casual labour.

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Unemployment and under-employment are a key concern for authorities, despite world-beating economic growth of 7.3 per cent.

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 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 7 October attack by Hamas.

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.

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