In a joint statement, leading trade unions of India have accused the Indian government of being complicit in the ongoing genocidal war unleashed by Israel against Palestine by exporting Indian workers to replace Palestinians in the construction and caregiving sectors.
ALL Central trade unions have unanimously opposed the “export” of “Indian workers to Israel to replace Palestinian workers”.
A joint statement issued on November 9 by the unions says that the Indian government is “playing a despicable role of supporting the Israeli plan to throw out Palestinian workers”.
These trade unions include the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre, Self-Employed Women’s Association, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Labour Progressive Federation, and United Trade Union Congress.
The chronic conflict between Israel and Palestine has escalated significantly over the last month or so.
Duringthis period, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 4,500 children, in bombings and raids on the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. Some 1,400 Israelis have also been killed, mostly on the first day of the flare-up on October 7.
Israel ended the direct occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, when it withdrew its forces from the territory and cooped the Palestinians up in the ‘largest open-air prison in the world’, which has led certain rights-based groups argue that the occupation of Gazanever ended.
As per international humanitarian law, an occupation ends when a country no longer has “effective control” over a territory.
Hamas wrested control of theadministrator of Gaza from Fateh in 2006. At that time, Hamas did not recognise the State of Israel, while Fateh had done so after theOslo Accords of 1993.
Therefore, Israel considered Hamas the more radical of the two and used the change in administration as an excuse to impose blockades on land, sea and air turning Gaza into an open-air prison since 2007.
This intensified the restriction on access to food, water and medical supplies for an approximate population of 1.8 million people out of whichtwo-third are under the age of twenty-five years.
Reportedly, Israel restricted the access to the quantity of food that could enter Gaza between 2007 to 2010 through its ‘Red Lines’ document.
The document suggests that Israel counted the bare minimum calories that people in Gaza would require according to age and gender.
The report states that Israel must allow 106 trucks into Gaza carrying food, water and other humanitarian supplies. However, Israel only allowed an average of 67 trucks daily into Gaza.
The water in Gaza remains severely contaminated. As per the World Health Organisation, approximately96 percent of the water comes from Gaza’s sole aquifer which is unfit for consumption.
Due to the continued blockade and restriction on movement, 81.5 percent of the individuals in Gaza, of which 71 percent are internally displaced Palestinian, live below the national poverty line. The unemployment rate in 2021 stood at 47 percent.
On November 2, the Israel Cabinetannounced that these workers should be returned to Gaza.
Horses for courses or sacrifices at the altar of diplomacy?
As a consequence of the Gazan workers being asked to leave, the Israeli Builders Association is facing a shortage of labour and plans to hire from India.
While the number of workers to be “exported” to Israel is not clear, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi clarified that the Indian government is engaged in along-term plan to send Indian workers for the Israeli construction and caregiving sector.
The long-term engagement should be seen in the backdrop of the official visit of the Foreign Minister of Israel Eli Cohen to India this May.
Reportedly, Cohen signed anagreementwith the Indian Union Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar to send around 42,000 Indian workers to Israel to work in the construction and caregiver sector.
“Nothing could be more immoral and disastrous for India than the said “report” of workers to Israel. That India is even considering “exporting” work[ers] show the manner in which it has dehumanised and commodified Indian workers,” the press release by the Central trade unions states.
Tapan Sen, general secretary of the CITU, told The Leaflet that the agreement of “export” Indian workers has no legality in law.
Sen said that workers cannot be made a “cannon fodder in the hell that is going on in Israel”. He warned that the Indian government should not facilitate the process just because the country continues to face a “high rate of unemployment”.
A.R. Sindhu, secretary of the CITU, also confirmed that such agreements of “exporting” human beings for no value in the eyes of law.
Sindhu told The Leaflet that considering the unemployment rate in India, workers would be ready to work anywhere considering how desperate they are.
She stated that if the Israeli government engages these workers in its occupied territories, it would be a violation of international law.
She also pointed out that this agreement and India’s shift in foreign policy favouring Israel only shows how it has become a “junior partner to the US’s imperialism”.
Sindhu warned that this would have a significant impact on the working class movement, especially in India where drastic overhaul of the labour laws, promoting 70 hours of work per week and not abiding by theMinimum Wages Act, 1948 shows that India is promoting bonded labour while paving the way for corporates.
Author and activist Navsharan Singh cautioned, “We must remember the stories of Punjabi labour who migrated to Canada in the early twentieth century to escape the imperial policy-induced agrarian crisis. Most of these labouring people who left their homes and undertook months-long risky sea voyages to come to Canada had no choice but to undertake arduous, unsafe, underpaid labour in the forest mills, or on railway tracks.
“Their history is that of abandonment, of exploitation, racist discrimination, and helplessness. It is well documented and stares us in the face as a stern lesson— labouring people suffer when their own governments have no compassion and no regard for their welfare or safety.”