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Lucknow: 'Better to Die In War Than Out of Hunger In India', Desperate Applicants Make Beeline For Construction Jobs In Israel

The Israeli recruitment agency offers Rs 1.37 lakh/month with other benefits and perks, including accommodation.

Lucknow: On a sunny afternoon, a crowd was walking up towards the Government Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Aliganj. Harikesh Kushwaha is seen asking security guards where the recruitment process for Israel is going on at the back gate of the campus. He is in Lucknow and clueless about the institute's entrance gate. The distance from gate number three to the main gate is approximately 700 meters. Kushwaha increased his speed and widened his steps as if he were running on a treadmill to avoid being late for the interview. 

At the entrance stood a giant board with skill and qualification requirements, number of vacancies, posts available and age limit. From shuttering work, tiles and marble fitting to wall plastering, bender, masons, and carpenter — the qualification varied from "illiterate" to "Graduation".

"It is better to earn some money and die in Israel than die of hunger here. When we migrate in our own country in search of jobs and are still not paid enough to run our household, why can't we move to Israel if we get a handsome amount?" Kushwaha, a graduate in political science from Kushinagar district, asks. 

Kushwaha (36) seems aware that his place of posting will be in a conflict zone. However, he is unaware of which part of Israel he is going to and which company he will work for. The only thing that attracted him to Lucknow was that he would get a decent salary of Rs. 1.37 lakh per month if he were selected for tile fitter. 

"I read in the newspaper about the recruitment for Israel and reached here. I have been doing tiler work for the last 15 years. But I can earn only Rs 15,000-20,000/month. We get small work here on an irregular basis. I have three children and elderly parents to take care of. Working in Israel will pay me enough to support my family," Kushwaha, a sole breadwinner, justified his decision to go to Israel. 

The Israeli government agency's, Population, Immigration, and Border Authority (PIBA), recruitment drive is being facilitated by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) — the Ministry of Finance established the NSDC and the labour department of the UP Government. 

The Israeli recruitment agency offers Rs 1.37 lakh/month with other benefits and perks, including accommodation. However, authorities refused to comment on the facilities they would provide to the selected workers when NewsClick approached them.  


'Money Matters'

Thousands of youths from across Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring states Bihar and Haryana are making a beeline for employment at ITI; recent job ads by the labour department of the UP Government triggered an unprecedented rush that underlines the helplessness of educated unemployed youngsters who are even ready to work as a construction worker in Israel. 

Dharmendra Rajbhar (41), a native of Azamgarh, is an ITI degree holder in the welding trade and has been working for the past ten years with a company named 3D Fire and Safety in Ghaziabad, but he is not getting enough salary to give quality education to his children. 

"It's the money that has forced me to go to Israel. I have seven kids who need to complete their education. It doesn't matter whether I am working in Ghaziabad or Israel. My two daughters are grown up for marriage, but I earn just enough money to feed my family. How will my daughters get married?" Rajbhar bunked work just to appear for the interview in Lucknow. 

Abhishek and Sajjan Singh of Bihar's Gopalganj district had come to Lucknow on January 28. They got their registration done by standing in line early for hours on Sunday morning, yet the number for the skill test did not come throughout the day. Abhishek spent Sunday night at Charbagh Railway station. On Monday, he again reached out to ITI for a skill test, hoping he would get a call for the interview.

"Who wants to go abroad, leaving their family back at home? We are helpless as construction workers have no job in our country. And if there are few jobs, then the money is less, or people don't pay on time. As far as safety is concerned, when the government is sending us there, it is their responsibility," the duo hoping to crack the two-minute-long interviews told NewsClick

The week-long recruitment drive began on January 23, with a 15-member Israeli team overseeing the process and expecting to fill over 5,000 positions for masons, carpenters and other construction workers in Israel.

The huge turnout of job aspirants at the eight-day mega Job Mela, which began in Lucknow's ITI on January 23, highlighted the large-scale unemployment in Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring states Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. 

Last month, the Uttar Pradesh government invited urgent applications from construction workers for openings in building construction work in Israel.

The labour department of the UP Government released an advertisement, which reads: "The Government of India is providing a golden opportunity to construction workers for getting jobs. Under this, applications are being invited from Raj Mistri, tile workers, shuttering workers, and those involved in netting, etc., through the Government of India's National Skill Development Mission to work in safe places in Israel on building construction."

The job will pay each worker Rs 1.37 lakh a month with an additional Rs 15,000/month as bonus fund, the advertisement added further. 

In May, India and Israel had agreed for 42,000 Indian workers, including 34,000 construction workers, to be sent to Israel for work. While Israel has been facing a labour shortage for a while, the situation has become compounded by the ongoing conflict with Palestine since October 7.

The UP Government has laid down certain conditions that an applicant needs to fulfil. An applicant must, for instance, be very skilled in at least one of the necessary areas. They should have a valid passport, but failing that, the government will help them apply for a Tatkal passport.

The employee must sign a required contract for a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years of service. The applicant or any member of their family should not have worked in Israel earlier.


No Government Jobs

Paramjeet Singh of Punjab, Rohit of Rajasthan, Rahul Balyan, Rajat Thakur, Anup Ranjan Gupta, and Mohit Upadhyay of Saharanpur are all preparing for completive exams but disappointed that no government vacancy is coming for a long time. 

"I am preparing for banking and clerical services. There is a dearth of jobs, and government sectors are being systematically sold off to private corporations. This is a huge blow to the youth of the country, who are suffering from a massive unemployment rate. We all are aware of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, but what option has the ruling government left for the youth of this country other than going to Israel?" Mohit Upadhyay, a master's in yoga science, told NewsClick

Meanwhile, Raj Kumar Yadav, a head in charge of the skill centre and principal of ITI Lucknow, speaking to NewsClick, said, "Initially, only 600-700 interviews were scheduled, but seeing the huge crowd for the last three days, we with our full capacity increased our team to take more interviews as more than 6,000 applicants from across the state and country coming for the interview every day. We are closing registration on January 30 as a delegation came from Israel will leave India," said Yadav, adding that both authorities in Israel and India supported the recruitment drive and were looking for 10,000 skilled construction workers.

"So far, 5,000 applicants got registered for jobs, out of which 4,500 got selected for a variety of jobs in Israel," he further added. 

Trade Union Oppose Recruitment Drive

Despite strong concerns expressed by the Central Trade Unions through a joint statement issued on November 9, 2023, calling the government to reject the request of Israel to recruit Indian construction workers, the government has put plans in place to facilitate the recruitment of Indian construction workers to work in Israel. Advertisements to this effect have been put in newspapers, and information indicates that thousands of intending migrant workers have already applied. 

The concerns of Central Trade Unions stem from the displacement of Palestinian workers and the sending of Indian workers to take up their jobs and work in a conflict zone. Further, it is reported that workers have to pay for their travel, insurance and visa, in addition to service and miscellaneous charges, to the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), the facilitating organisation on behalf of the government. This is contrary to the provisions laid out in the Emigration Act 1983. Under Rule 25 (as per the 2017 amendment), the air ticket to the destination country [25(3)c] shall be borne by the foreign employer. Further, activists and trade union leaders have appealed to the government to put the plans to send Indian construction workers on hold as peace alludes the region where they are being sent to work.

"The UP Government did not follow the rules and regulations of the safety of migrant labourers in the recruitment drive. The workers were not registered on the 'e-migrate' portal. They were not given health insurance. The agency hiring should pay the airfare and bear all expenses of the workers selected for jobs," Pramod Patel, general secretary of Pravasi Sharmik Adhikar Manch or Migrant Rights Forum, told NewsClick

Prem Nath Rai, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), questioned the government's move to send workers to the conflict-hit country. 

"The government should not send the labourers as there is a threat to their lives and no social security. The recruitment agency said that a certain amount would be paid, but how would the mechanism be implemented? As per our foreign policy, we always support Palestinians. Therefore, sending workers to Israel would be against our policy." 

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