Will new legislation get Israelis longer weekends?

Kulanu MK Eli Cohen thinks that’s going to be good for Israel’s productivity, and if he has his way, the country will soon get a lot more vacation days.

May 12, 2016 22:11
3 minute read.
Kulanu MK Eli Cohen

Kulanu MK Eli Cohen. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

This year’s Independence Day celebrations conveniently fell just before the weekend, giving those Israeli workers who can avoid the half-day job on Friday a nice, three-day break.

Kulanu MK Eli Cohen thinks that’s going to be good for Israel’s productivity, and if he has his way, the country will soon get a lot more vacation days.

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“Here in Israel we work among the most hours in the world, and the productivity is among the lowest,” he said in a Tuesday interview with The Jerusalem Post in Tel Aviv.

“The bill says that in Israel, once a month workers will get a long weekend. This is a dramatic change on work conditions in Israel.”

The bill he refers to is a compromise on a long-standing discussion on whether Israel should align its weekends with the West, taking Sunday off and finding some sort of accommodation for Shabbat.

It would mandate one long weekend, Friday-Sunday, every month.

After a three-year trial period, the government would have to assess whether the plan had the desired impact before it becomes permanent.

“74% of the world doesn’t work on Sunday, and of the countries that Israel works with most, 90% don’t work on Sunday,” he says.

The economic thinking behind the plan is that some businesses, such as those in tourism, food and entertainment, will remain open and thrive. Workers would be paid a premium to work on the long weekend, making them happy, and people will have a break to enjoy life with their friends and family.

Because so many of Israel’s holidays are religious, Sunday would also be a rare day off on which people could run errands and get things done. All that would provide a boost to businesses that normally have to close on weekends and holidays.

Further, Cohen thinks that Israelis can squeeze the same amount of productivity into fewer hours a month. Not only would workers have a chance to relax and get back to work more refreshed, he argues, but some of the extra hours Israelis put in at work may be wasted. This policy, he hopes, would reduce that waste, and increase Israel’s productivity rankings.

Cohen expects that the bill, which is heading toward a ministerial committee hearing in two weeks and may pass the Knesset by the end of the year, has support from the Histadrut Labor Federation.

Cohen says it also has tentative support from manufacturers, though they’d apparently prefer long weekends just six times a year.

An April letter from the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce said the business group would support the effort, but noted the need for flexible work hours to help make up the lost work time if necessary, and recommended having school vacations coordinate with the new vacation schedule.

Cohen, who is heading a reform task force appointed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, thinks Israel’s economy needs more than extra vacation, though. One area of importance is increasing business ties with Palestinians, a step he says will benefit both sides, and build trust.

“The chance that there will be a political solution in the coming 5-10 years is not high, so we need to invest both in strengthening the Israeli economy, reducing gaps, and helping the Palestinians improve their economy,” he says. Israel also needs to do a better job providing Israel’s Arabs with proper services and infrastructure; foreign governments like Qatar should not be funding stadiums for Israeli Arabs, he says.

Cohen also says that the Finance Ministry and Bank of Israel are close to reaching a compromise on financial sector reforms. Different views between Kahlon, who is concerned about increased competition, and Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug, who is concerned that some reforms could endanger Israel’s financial stability, have stalled progress.

Asked whether the government would move ahead without BOI’s blessing, Cohen quickly replies, “No.”

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