Israel employs 1500 Jordanians in hotel jobs
Israel’s cabinet approved a proposal by Israel’s tourism minister to hire up to 1500 Jordanians to work in hotels in Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat. The approval comes amid a growing shortage of workers and as the high summer season begins.
“I see this as an important step in Israel-Jordan relations,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told The Media Line. “My hope is the Jordanians will come, work and enjoy the people and the salary here.”
The workers will all have to be vetted by Israel’s security services. They will enter Israel each morning via the Aqaba crossing, which was established as part of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994, and go home each night. They will be employed as cleaners and dishwashers in Eilat’s 12,000 hotel rooms.
There are already 170 Jordanians working in Eilat, at the local laundry. But this is the first time the Jordanians will be working in the hotels, and having direct contact with Israeli and international guests. Eilat, with its beach and water sports, and mild winter temperatures, is a popular destination for both Israeli and European tourists. However, there has long been a shortage of workers for some of the jobs.
Israeli officials say they prefer Israelis to fill these open positions, and even offered incentives such as tuition breaks, and extra payments for released soldiers. While young Israelis are prepared to be waiters in restaurants in the center of the country, and work in reception in hotels, few are interested in minimum wage cleaning jobs.
“Do you want a lecture on Zionism?” Shabtai Shay, the CEO of the Eilat Hotel Association asked The Media Line in response to the question “why not?” “Israelis don’t like to do menial labor jobs. Eilat is also remote. We offered the workers flights from Eilat to Tel Aviv a few times a year to get them to come, but they were not willing to.”
Over the past 10 years, the shortage was temporarily alleviated by illegal foreign workers from Eritrea and Sudan. Although they crossed the border into Israel illegally from Egypt, and were detained by Israeli troops, they were allowed to work in the hotels. Yet in the past few months the Israeli government has changed its policy, saying that all illegal workers must be held in a new detention facility called Holot, built by Israel at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.
Israeli officials say that hiring the Jordanian workers for the hotels will be good for both sides.
“There are job seekers in Aqaba and there are jobs in Eilat,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line, referring to the town in southern Jordan just across the border from Israel. “The most obvious thing is to join the two. Israelis who live in Ranana (a town some 15 miles from Tel Aviv) and work in Tel Aviv have a longer commute.
Palmor said it will also forge ties between the two Red Sea resorts – one in Israel and one in Jordan.
“This is a normal relationship between neighboring cities and countries,” Palmor said. “There will be tighter cooperation between Eilat and Aqaba.”
Many tourists, including Israelis, travel from Eilat to the ancient red-rock city of Petra via Aqaba. The border crossing is open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Although the new workers who will be hired will cross into Israel in the morning and return home at night, there is a problem.
“The problem is that we need them even more for the evening shift when there are weddings in the hotels, or just tourists eating dinner there,” Shabtai Shay, the CEO of the Eilat Hotel Association told The Media Line. “But we cannot fight for everything. We would like to get this started, and then once we see who is coming, perhaps the government will decide it s not a risk to let them stay overnight.”
Shay said the average salary for a hotel employee in Jordan is $500. Across the border in Israel they would earn minimum wage, which is $1500 plus food, pension, health insurance and paid holidays. He said the hotel industry has been trying to get more workers since 2000.
The government has approved 500 workers in the first stage, for a total of 1500. Shay hopes this is only the first stage and that in the future, Israel will allow some 4000 Jordanians to work in Eilat’s hotels.