Binyamin Ben-Eliezer visits Afula 311.
(photo credit: Yoram Cohen)
A new employment program to replace the controversial Lights to Employment, or Wisconsin Plan, that was scrapped last April received initial approval Monday after passing its first reading in the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
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“This employment plan is the most profound comprehensive program ever made in Israel,” said Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as he presented the new program to the Knesset. “It was designed to help recipients of income support benefits in the labor market with training, advice and guidance and to supply a variety of services to remove existing barriers.
“It also aims to allow recipients of state benefits to move beyond dependence on social and economic assistance to gain financial independence,” he added.
The government’s previous welfare-to-work program was deemed a failure after workers’ rights groups continually highlighted unfair treatment and lack of employment success among participants. Aimed at finding permanent jobs for thousands of chronically unemployed people collecting state benefits, it had been outsourced by the government to four private companies in Ashkelon/Sderot, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Hadera.
Launched in August 2005, the program was dogged from the start by sensationalist headlines giving incredulous examples of its failures, including stories of highly educated Russian immigrants being sent to fold laundry in hospital storerooms and of Muslim women – who had never before left their homes – ordered to work on back-breaking gardening projects or risk forfeiting their various social welfare benefits.
The program was also criticized by the National Employment Service, which had previously provided services for the unemployed. When the Lights to Employment was recommended to become a national program last December, workers at the service immediately announced a general strike.
In the Knesset Monday, Ben- Eliezer said that the program would bring “far-reaching changes” and stressed that the new protocol was completely different from the previous format.
“I hope the program will be reviewed in a professional matter and not used as a tool for gaining political capital,” he said, adding that Israel needed a welfare-to-work plan.
“We do not have the luxury of ignoring the treatment of these populations. Rejecting this plan means rejecting those who need it most – recipients of allowances and the unemployed,” Ben Eliezer said. “The plan has very important value primarily for vulnerable segments in the Israeli economy.”
Ran Melamed, deputy director of Social Policy and Communication for the
non-profit organization Yedid – a watchdog for Lights to Employment –
told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “as long as the rights of the
citizens are not hurt and there is strict supervision of the private
companies used by the government to run this program, then it will
hopefully work this time.”
He added, “There has to be some solution to help the unemployed for the benefit of the people.”