Underlying Conditions: The Increased Vulnerability of Migrant Workers Under COVID-19 in Israel.
Journal of Modern Slavery: A Multidisciplinary Exploration of Human Trafficking Solutions. Vol. 6 (2). P 133 (2021)
27 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2021 Last revised: 1 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 21, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic, and with it the introduction of closures, quarantines and social distancing regulations by governments, has had an immense impact on labour markets and working conditions around the world. In various countries, governments have attempted to mediate the harsh economic results of closures through providing direct benefits or by supporting employers to retain workers. However, such policies have generally not been extended to noncitizens, who, as a result, have found themselves either without income or working long hours in sectors designated ‘essential’, such as care, agriculture, and construction, often under new restrictions and in the face of health risks.
This article considers the impact of key policies introduced in response to the spread of COVID-19 on migrant workers’ vulnerability through a specific case study: temporary migrant workers and other ‘unskilled’ non-citizen workers in the Israeli labour market. We explore the link between restrictive policies and measures resulting from COVID-19 and the increased risk of severe forms of labour market exploitation, in some cases amounting to forced labour, slavery and trafficking in persons. We argue that the impact of COVID-19 restrictions in the Israeli context has generally manifested not in the emergence of new forms of exploitation and coercion, but rather in the exacerbation and intensification of ‘underlying conditions’ that were already present, i.e., existing structural vulnerabilities to severe forms of labour market. exploitation. However, we also find that the intensification of vulnerabilities has presented new opportunities for solidarity and resistance. The article maps and analyses what has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic regarding key elements of vulnerability that characterise the employment of these three groups, across the largest sectors employing non-citizen workers in Israel: care, construction and agriculture. All three sectors are part of a secondary labour market, characterised by low wages, substandard working conditions, and employment of mostly non-citizens. All three sectors were designated as ‘essential’ during the pandemic. While the Israeli case is unique in many ways, it also bears a similarity to other migrant-receiving countries in the Global North. Specifically, the Israeli temporary migrant-worker regime, like many others across OECD countries, is characterised by mobility restrictions, housing restrictions, and exclusion from labour laws. We 3 therefore believe that analysis of the impact of COVID-19 policies on the structural vulnerabilities to forced labour, slavery and trafficking in the Israeli context may be relevant to other migrant-receiving countries.
Keywords: Migrant workers, COVID-19, labour, slavery, trafficking, Israel, Palestine, Palestinian workers, Asylum seekers, care, agriculture, construction
JEL Classification: J15, J43, J61, J47, J81, J83, K31, K37, I1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation