Meretz MK Zandberg eats lunch in office 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
With plastic containers of homemade food piled high on her desk, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and her assistants marked day one of their boycott of the Knesset cafeterias Monday by eating lunch in her office.
“I’m going to bring food every day until there’s a change,” Zandberg said, scooping rice onto her plate.
The Meretz MK, along with her spokeswoman Keshset Ori, parliamentary aide Tom Cohen and an intern, are boycotting the Knesset’s three cafeterias because the food servers and cooks are contract workers, not employed directly by the Knesset.
Or, as a flyer distributed by Zandberg in the cafeterias Monday afternoon reads: “The Knesset must serve as an example for the rest of the market! We will not eat in the cafeteria while the workers are in danger of being fired every few months... Cafeteria workers are passed from [catering company to catering company] and do not get the conditions they deserve...
Join us and boycott the cafeterias in a demand for immediate direct employment of cafeteria workers.”
Zandberg is no stranger to cafeteria boycotts, having helped lead one in the 16th Knesset as parliamentary aide to then-MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), in protest of high prices.
“If we could bring food from home to lower prices, we can do it now,” she said.
As for the fact that the cafeterias provide more vegan options because of a request from Zandberg earlier this year, she said: “I want to eat in the cafeteria, I like it, but then we were fighting for animal rights, and now it’s for human rights.”
“We like both animals and humans,” Ori quipped.
“Certainly,” Zandberg responded with a smile, digging into a plate of rice and salad.
The battle over Knesset cafeteria workers’ conditions began several years ago. In the previous Knesset, thenspeaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) ordered that the workers not be fired and rehired twice a year, at the beginning and end of each Knesset recess.
However, they are still fired and rehired whenever the Knesset hires a new catering company, as it is expected to do in August.
“They should be Knesset employees, not merchandise that is moved from company to company,” Zandberg said.
In a letter sent to all MKs and Knesset employees Monday morning, Knesset chief accountant Haim Avidor argued that the cafeteria workers receive rights beyond what they deserve under law.
“The Knesset includes in the contract it signs with food providers an instruction requiring them to give the workers full benefits under law and follow joint agreements pertaining to food service providers,” Avidor wrote.
“In addition, the Knesset explicitly wrote in the contract that the [catering company] must pay its workers minimum wage, make pension payments, give severance compensation, etc., as is required by law.”
In addition, the Knesset pays NIS 180,000 per month of its recess – there are usually about four each year – to make sure the cafeterias are running so that the workers aren’t fired.
The Knesset accountant’s office requires the catering company to send copies of cafeteria workers’ pay stubs, and the Knesset has a complaint box and email account for them to complain if there are any problems.