Knesset members in the Economic Affairs Committee blasted a government initiative to import large numbers of foreign workers for Israel’s hi-tech sector on Wednesday.
Called at the behest of MKs from across the political spectrum, the committee convened a special meeting to discuss concerns with the proposed plan, which has been floated by the government as a way to hold down rising wages among computer engineers.
“This is a crazy idea,” said Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union). “Soon we will begin to import citizens from abroad. We must think of other solutions to the shortage, such as integrating workers over the age of 40, who left the high-tech industry, as well as integrating Arabs, haredim, and women.”
MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) also criticized the proposal, labeling it “irresponsible and hasty”, and called for a solution to growing problems in Israel’s hi-tech industry “without bringing in engineers from abroad.”
The controversial idea to import large numbers of hi-tech workers, primarily computer engineers, was first broached late last month, following a February 14th report by Israel’s Finance Ministry which warned that Israel was not producing enough new computer science graduates to sustain growth in the hi-tech industry.
According to the report, the hi-tech sector, which drove much of Israel’s economy growth in the 1990s, has been stagnating since 2010, growing at less than half the pace of the economy at large.
But experts who testified at the committee hearing today challenged the Finance Ministry report, noting that large numbers of qualified Israelis have been left out of the hi-tech sector.
“We must first utilize the potential of the workers in Israel,” said Shlomo Waxe, director general of the Israel Association of Electronics and Software Industries.
Waxe noted that more than 5,000 professionals are qualified for hi-tech jobs, “but companies are not willing to hire them due to lack of experience or training,” preferring instead to look to workers abroad rather than invest in training local workers.
Chairman of the Amdocs worker’s committee, Uri Pinchasi, questioned the validity of the Finance Ministry’s report, noting that in more than a decade and a half in the industry he had seen no evidence of a worker shortage.
He went on to excoriate the government’s proposed solution, saying “If we bring India [to Israel], it will be a death sentence.”
A representative of the Ministry of Economy, however, where the plan to import foreign workers is being pushed, defended the proposal. Yael Mazuz, who heads the High Skilled Employment project in the ministry, claimed that bringing in foreign workers would actually increase the number of jobs available to Israelis.