One hundred thousand Israeli families will rise above the poverty line thanks to a new law that strengthens enforcement of labor laws, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon predicted Wednesday.

Speaking at a symposium hosted by his ministry in Tel Aviv, Simhon said that labor laws may as well not exist if there is no power to enforce them. He urged Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini and Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations President Zvi Oren – who were both present – to cooperate with each other in order to ensure enforcement works.

The Law to Strengthen Enforcement of Labor Laws came into effect in June.

It introduced new procedures for quick treatment of small and occasional transgressors, and new criminal procedures to be issued against the worst transgressors.

It increased the maximum fines employers may be issued for violating labor laws, and permitted their names to be published.

Oren said he was looking forward to working with the ministry and with Eini, but added that existing labor laws would need to become more flexible.

He explained that 80 percent of factories face a shortage of qualified workers, but that the law prevents them from asking their employees to work a certain amount of overtime – even if the employees themselves consent.

“I want you to understand what type of employer we are talking about,” Oren said. “We are talking about small employers are trying to realize their dream and their idea. We are not talking about people who are looking to exploit their workers.”

Eini claimed that almost 50% of the labor force lives in poverty, and blamed much of it on a lack of enforcement.

Until now there were only 19 workplace supervisors in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, he said, adding: “Imagine if there were only 19 policemen in the entire country.”

The labor federation chief also raised the dispute over the employment status of contract workers, which was the focus of a four-day Histadrut general strike in February. Accusing Treasury officials of speaking to him through the media, Eini said he would now use the media to address Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

“What has been happening lately is a fatal blow to the poor and the middle class. They [the government] don’t allow people to live, and still that is not enough for them,” he said.

Billionaire businessman Stef Wertheimer welcomed tighter enforcement, and presented a philosophical stance in which he argued that the word “work” (avoda) should replace the word “employment” or “occupation” (taasuka) in public discourse.

“We are not used to viewing work as something of which we are proud,” he said. “Why not respect the industrialists, the professionals, and the teachers properly? If we understood that what we are really missing are professionals, the situation in Israel would be different. We shouldn’t be talking on television all the time about money, but also about import and export industries.”

Also at the conference, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry presented the results of a recent poll, revealing a stunning lack of awareness of labor laws among both employers and employees.

Sixty-six percent of employees and 36% of employers who responded to the poll were not aware of the minimum wage. Around 60% of employers did not know of the existence of a law that stipulates how they must treat employees.

Additionally, 7.6% of employers did not allocate pension payments to workers as required by law, and about 15% of employees claimed their workplace rights had been violated.

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