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By the end of next week, employers in the North will have to pay full salaries to their workers whether or not their businesses operated since the fighting began, and whether or not those employees worked during these weeks.
Seven days before the deadline, Rani Ohayon, who owns a printing press in Nahariya, has no idea where he will get the money to pay them. His press has been closed since July 12 by order of Home Front Command. Not only has he not made a penny since then, he has also suffered order cancellations and lost clients who have found more "reliable" suppliers in the Center.
"I have to come up with NIS 130,000 to pay my employees," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I don't know how I will do it."
As far as the government is concerned, the problem has already been resolved. Last week, the coordinating bureau of the government, the Histadrut and the employers reached agreement on a compensation package for all the businesses in the North affected by the war.
According to the agreement, all employees will receive their full July salaries. The government will pay 60 percent of the money, the employers 20% and the workers will sacrifice vacation days to make up the other 20%. In cash terms, this means that the employers will pay 40% of their workers' salaries.
Even assuming that Ohayon can come up with NIS 52,000 to pay his share of the money, he still has not received word from the government as to how and when he will receive its share.
"Everything is shrouded in mystery," he said. "I speak to my accountant every day and he tells me he has not yet heard a thing."
According to a government spokesperson, the Tax Authority has published detailed instructions to the employers about how to receive the government's share of the salaries. They appear on its Internet site and were also published in the press, she said. According to these instructions, each employer must fill out an application and submit it to the authority. Employers who fill in the form by August 5 will receive the money by August 25. Asked what the employers would do in the meantime, since they are obliged to pay the salaries by the 10th of the month, the spokeswoman said the mandatory payment date did not come under its jurisdiction and was not its concern.
Meanwhile, Ohayon and virtually all the other small industrialists and craftsmen in the North have other worries. According to last week's agreement, the government will give every employer compensation estimated at 80% of the total sum the employer pays his workers in salaries.
"This is a compensation of pennies," said Yossi Ben-Shoshan, chairman of the Association of Workshops and Small Industries in Haifa and the North. Last week, Ben-Shoshan, whose association represents tens of thousands of members, estimated the losses they have incurred at hundreds of millions of shekels.
"Since the fighting began, clients have cancelled orders, even orders that I was already working on," said Ben-Shoshan, talking about his own difficulties. "Others have cancelled checks before I could cash them." On the other hand, he still has to repay bank-extended credit, municipal taxes and other routine monthly expenses. According to Ben-Shoshan, it takes him two months to recover from a five-day vacation. Now, he expects the work interruption to last four months, taking into account the upcoming holiday season which lasts until into October.
His business employs 17 people, including seven family members - his wife, three sons and three daughters-in-law. The printing press, located in an industrial zone near Haifa, does not have a security area. Two weeks ago, when the Home Command urged businesses south of the confrontation line along the northern border to reopen, Ben-Shoshan decided to return to work with his sons. According to Ben-Shoshan, the family argued over whether to take the chance. The women in the family refused.
That Sunday, an Israeli Arab factory worker was killed by a rocket not far from Ben-Shoshan's workshop. "The blast from the Katyushas was so strong that I was pinned to the ground," he said. Despite warning sirens, one of his sons decided to deliver urgently needed merchandise to a client. A Katyusha fell 70 meters from his car. Ben-Shoshan said his son was still suffering from shock.
However, the printing press owner was so desperate to continue operating and keep his clients that he started to work at night, his theory being that the Hizbullah only fire their rockets during the daytime.
Ben-Shoshan tried to block the agreement signed by the coordinating bureau and accused those who signed it, including his own representative, Shraga Brosh, of belonging to a "Tel Aviv clique" that doesn't know what is happening.
Ben-Shoshan called on the government to declare an emergency situation for the entire area from Atlit, 10 kilometers south of Haifa, to the northern border. "This will enable us to receive immediate aid," he explained. "We must receive compensation for all our losses. A strong home front means a strong army."
More than anything else, Ben-Shoshan, Ohayon and the other small industrialists are worried about whether they will survive after the fighting ends. Sinai Ya'acov, who owns a small industry in Karmiel, produced at no more than 55% of capacity in July. The factory was closed during the first week of hostilities and now, two weeks later, is operating with only 75% of its regular manpower.
"My clients want their orders," he said. "We can't make up for all the lost time. We work under fire and must run to the shelters from time to time. These clients are not making new orders. I am more worried about what will happen after the war than about what is happening now."
This is also Ohayon's primary concern. Until now, he has provided services for some of the biggest companies in the North. "Nahariya is at the extreme end of the country," he said. "There are not that many sources of work here. If I lose the ones I have now, what will I do?"