'I'd Rather Die Working in Israel...': Jobless Indian Workers Queue up in Rohtak

In May 2023, Israel and India had inked a deal to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

7 min read

“If I get a well-paying job here, I'd never go to Israel,” said 40-year-old Dinesh, who works as a carpenter in Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria.

On a chilly morning of 19 January, when the sun was still obscure, hordes of men covered in bright-coloured blankets queued up in front of Rohtak’s Maharishi Dayanand University for a recruitment drive – backed by the Central and the state governments – to hire Indian construction workers, masons, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers for jobs in Israel.

Dinesh is part of a group of 25-30 men who travelled from different parts of Uttar Pradesh to Haryana's Rohtak district.
In May 2023, Israel and India had inked a deal to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

Dinesh is part of a group of 25-30 men who travelled from different parts of Uttar Pradesh to Haryana's Rohtak district.

(Photo: Aakriti Handa/The Quint)

Even as more than 25,000 Palestinians have been reportedly killed since the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel – which killed around 1,200 people – the jobseekers have no qualms about going to the conflict zone. 

“If the Central government is sending us, it should be safe,” Ferozebhai, who came all the way from Gujarat's Godhra to partake in the recruitment drive, told The Quint. The drive was jointly organised by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), which falls under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and the Haryana Rojgar Kaushal Nigam (HRKN).

Since October last year, 50 percent of Israel’s construction sites are reportedly shut, and the nation is short of 1,40,000 workers.

On 9 November, the then Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said that a bilateral framework for caregivers and construction workers between India and Israel is "a long-term initiative". Earlier, in May 2023, the two nations had inked an agreement to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

‘Offering More Money Than I Will Ever Get in India’ 

Khatra to har kaam mein hota hai, haadse kahin bhi ho sakte hain (Every job has its dangers, accidents can happen anywhere),” said 37-year-old Jasbir Pannu when this reporter asked him if he was aware of the perils he may encounter in Israel. 

In May 2023, Israel and India had inked a deal to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

Jasbir Pannu spoke to The Quint after he gave his practical exam during the recruitment drive being held at MDU in Rohtak, Haryana on 19 January.

(Photo: Aakriti Handa/The Quint)

A 12th pass with a diploma in Office Automation and Computing, Pannu from Haryana's Hisar is looking to fill the seat for a mason in Israel. The job description, mentioned on the NSDC portal, promises a salary of Rs 1.37 lakh per month and includes accommodation.

In May 2023, Israel and India had inked a deal to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

Salary break-up as mentioned on NSDC's job portal.

(Accessed by The Quint)

It also promises medical insurance, the monthly premium (approximately Rs 3,000) of which will be deducted from the worker’s salary. The workers will also get a Special Deposit Fund of nearly Rs 17,000 per month, which will be paid to them once they leave Israel.

Pannu, the sole breadwinner of his family of four, worked at a FASTag toll plaza until six months ago. He left his job to tend to his mother after she was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, he has been helping a local advocate in filing documents and earns Rs 10,000-15,000 per month.  

“The company is offering very good money, more than I will ever get in Rohtak or the whole of Haryana. There is insurance too. I hope I get it,” he said. 

‘What If Israel is Attacked? What If Worker Dies?’: Trade Union Raises Concerns 

In a letter to the MEA on 15 January, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) argued that sending Indian citizens to a “war zone” is not justifiable, adding that this development is telling of “the complete failure in generating meaningful employment in the country..."

"Ordinary people who are desperate with unemployment and poverty will pay a heavy price for Prime Minister Modi’s apparent bonhomie with Israel.”
AITUC's letter to MEA

Apart from Rohtak, similar recruitment drives are being held in Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow. 

“Our first contention is that no protections are being promised to the workers being sent there, and the second one is that Indian workers will be replacing Palestinians in Israel. By doing this, will India not be party to the genocidal politics of Israel?” AITUC General Secretary Amarjeet Kaur told The Quint. 

Meanwhile, at the recruitment drive, 24-year-old Sonu Punia from Jind, in Haryana, walked out feeling confident of bagging the job, gleefully showing an orange band tied on his wrist, which indicates his registration number. He said that there was a panel – comprising two Israelis and others from Haryana – judging the candidates on how well they can construct a beam. 

  • Sonu Punia from Jind, in Haryana, shows his band.

    (Photo: Aakriti Handa/The Quint)

“They gave us measurements – and we were asked to make a beam. I know iron-bending. I think I will get through. I’ll be the first one from my family to bag a job abroad,” remarked Sonu, whose elder brother works in Haryana Police.

On being asked if he was aware of the ongoing conflict in Israel, Sonu said that “it’s over now.” 

When Ferozebhai was asked the same question, he explained, “There is an ongoing conflict in Manipur. But that does not mean that the whole of India is a conflict-zone. We will be safe.”

However, Kaur claimed that the Indian government has no concrete policy that guarantees the workers' protections. “What if there’s a counterattack on Israel by extremist groups? What if someone gets injured – fatally or otherwise? Who is responsible then? Will the workers’ kin back home be compensated adequately?” she asked.  

She pointed out that Israel Prime Minister Benhamin Netanyahu has rejected ceasefire despite an international outcry demanding a humanitarian pause – and asserted that the nation continues to be a “warzone” in the absence of truce. She further demanded that the government shows documents and names the firms where the Indian workers will be sent. 

The Quint reached out to several officials of the MEA and the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment. The article will be updated as and when they respond.


‘If I Could Save Rs 10,000 Per Month, I Won’t Go to Israel’ 

Roz roz marne se achha, wahaan jaake ek he baar mar jaaun (It’s better to die in Israel working instead of dying a little everyday unemployed here),” said Prakash Kumar Singh.

Hailing from Bihar's Buxar, the 35-year-old electrician has done a two-year vocational training course from an Industrial Training Institute (ITI). Having worked in Kuwait for eight years, he was confident of getting this job in Israel. But he was disappointed: 

“After coming here today, we learnt the job is only for Haryana domiciles,” he said. Prakash said that he had barely arranged money to take a train to Rohtak, spent Rs 200 in a guest house, and now doesn’t even have enough to go back home. 

In May 2023, Israel and India had inked a deal to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

Prakash Kumar Singh, who had come to Rohtak from Buxar in Bihar, with others. They were disappointed for not being able to register for the recrutiment drive.

(Photo: Aakriti Handa/The Quint)

The Quint reached out to NSDC and HKRN to confirm if residents of Haryana were given preference in the recruitment drive. They are yet to respond.

Meanwhile, Sunit Mukherjee, Director of Public Relations at the Maharishi Dayanand University, told The Quint that the university only acted as a venue to conduct the drive – and cannot comment on the hiring process. 

Virender Chauhan, a 47-year-old tile-maker from Uttar Pradesh’s Khushinagar, shared the same dismay as Prakash Kumar Singh. Having worked in Dubai and Russia before, he promptly responded to the hiring advert.

In May 2023, Israel and India had inked a deal to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

Virender Chauhan shows the hiring advert on his phone.

(Photo: Aakriti Handa/The Quint)

The sole breadwinner of his family of six, who earn Rs 700 per day on days he finds work, Chauhan said he will sit for the recruitment drive in Lucknow. “Mil gaya to nahi chhodenge (If I get it, then I will not let it go),” he said, and then quickly lamented that if he could save just Rs 10,000 per month, he won’t go and take up a job in Israel.

Usman Jawed, a specialist researcher and migrant worker rights advocate for FairSquare, a London-based non-profit organisation, told The Quint that the rush for such high-risk jobs highlights the persistent lack of remunerative livelihood for blue-collared workers in India.

“This desperation is a reflection of incredible hardships that an average Indian worker goes through. Unfortunately, it has become banal for the upper-middle class in the absence of a political voice of these workers,” he added.


‘Replacing Palestinian Workers Politically and Morally Wrong’: Experts  

While AITUC's Kaur pointed out that India recognised the State of Palestine in 1988, Jawed said sending Indian workers to Israel at this time would be in contravention to our foreign policy, which has so far sought a ceasefire. He explained, “Israel’s economy is ravaged because of the war. Contractors are in dire states. Now when internal pressure is mounting on Israel to stop the war, India is enabling it by providing workers.” 

According to a report in The Times of Israel, the Israel Builders Association has claimed that nearly 50 percent of construction sites in the country have been shut since October, and that those which are functional are running at 30 percent capacity.  

After the attack on 7 October, Israel had banned Palestinian workers, after which they were reportedly incarcerated and tortured. As per International Labour Organisation, 193,000 Palestinians were employed in Israel and illegal settlements as of 2022. Of these, 57.3 percent were in the construction sector. Israel’s Finance Ministry estimated the economic damage of Palestinians not coming to work at $830 million a month. 

A statement issued by Palestinian Trade Unions on 13 November called on their Indian counterparts to reject any agreements with Israel. It said: 

“The call for such an agreement with India reflects Israel’s racism and commodification of Indian workers, where they are being asked to “replace” another set of workers enduring genocide. This racism extends to other Asian migrant workers as well. For example, Human Rights Watch has documented the abuse of Thai workers in Israel’s agriculture sector."

Human Rights Watch, in its 48-page report titled A Raw Deal: Abuses of Thai Workers in Israel’s Agricultural Sector and published in 2015 documented low pay, excessive working hours, hazardous working conditions, and poor housing for some of Israel’s Thai agricultural workers – and employer retribution if they try to protest by going on strike.  

“On the one hand, India has donated $2.5 million to a UN agency for Palestinian refugees, and on the other, it is sending Indian workers to replace Palestinians. What explains this?” Jawed asked.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Israel   Human Rights   Israel-Palestine 

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