Unions in India oppose government plan to replace Palestinian workers in Israel

By Zane McNeill  

Ten major trade unions in India have condemned the government’s “unethical” stance on Gaza and demanded an end to India’s agreement with Israel that would allow companies to hire tens of thousands of Indian workers to replace Palestinian construction workers whose work permits have been revoked since Israel began its genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Israel is shamelessly escalating its genocidal attack against Palestinians,” a joint press release says. “Nothing could be more immoral and disastrous for India than the said ‘export’ of workers to Israel.”

The press release, jointly released on behalf of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and other Indian union organizations, calls for India’s trade union movements to show solidarity with Palestinian workers.

Before October 7, more than 110,000 Palestinians held permits to work in Israel with the majority working in the construction industry. Following the attack, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in the Israeli construction industry were suspended.

“As it is, the settler-colonial occupation of Palestine has decimated its economy, causing high levels of poverty and unemployment, and has resulted in Palestinians being dependent on Israel for employment,” the trade union press release says. “Though numbers have fluctuated over time, an average of 130,000 Palestinians were employed in Israel, with the construction sector accounting for the largest share of Palestinian workers, with Palestinian workers making almost 65-70 per cent of the total workforce.”

Left without these workers, and without alternative sources of labour, the construction industry in Israel has been operating at 15 percent capacity.

“It’s a very, very big problem for the Israeli economy,” Shay Pauzner, Israel Builders Association’s deputy director-general, told NPR earlier this month. “This is one of the places where every Israeli will feel the impact of this war: in their pocket.”

In early November, thousands of Palestinian workers were forced to return to Gaza on foot after being dropped off several miles from the Israeli-Gaza border wearing numbered tags on their ankles. Some of those workers told NPR that they had been rounded up across Israel by the country’s security forces and subsequently detained.

Since October 7, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, including more than 4500 children. Another 2700 people have been reported missing and are thought to be trapped or dead under the rubble of bombed buildings.

India’s Modi government has expressed solidarity with Israel and abstained from supporting a United Nations Resolution for a ceasefire. In May 2023, during Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen’s trip to New Delhi, Israel and India signed an agreement to send 42,000 Indian workers to Israel. Now, the Modi government is planning to ship 90,000 construction workers to Israel, according to the trade unions.

“India’s trade union movement must rise in solidarity with Palestinian workers and reject this disastrous idea,” the press release says. “Let’s resolve that we will not work to replace Palestinian workers in Israel! India and Indian workers should boycott Israelian products! Indian workers, as their counterparts in some western countries, should refuse to handle the Israeli cargo!”

“That India is even considering ‘exporting’ works shows the manner in which it has dehumanized and commodified Indian workers,” the press release says. “Such [a] step will amount to complicity on India’s part with Israel’s ongoing genocidal war against Palestinians and will naturally have adverse implications for Indian workers in the entire region.”


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