Foreign caregivers expressed deep concern on Monday that new legislation by the Knesset turns them into “modern-day slaves.”

The law binds workers to a certain geographical location, makes it more difficult to change jobs and find new employment.

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“It’s not good. They want to make every worker like a slave and we do not like it at all,” said 28-year-old Nepal-born Bindya Maharjan, who has been working as a caregiver in Jerusalem for the past four years.“If the new law is implemented we cannot change our work place and we cannot change the city.

In our work we can have lots of problems,” she said.

“Let’s suppose the employer does not want to pay our salary, or we are sexually harassed. If that happens, then we have no choice but to change our work,” Maharjan said.

The law, which is an amendment to the Israel Entry Act, created the option for the interior minister to institute new regulations, including restricting the number of times a foreign caregiver can change employers during their five years of legal employment, limiting workers to a specific geographical area as defined upon arrival, and possibly confining them to working with a specific category of patients.

Daniel Solomon, a legal advisor at the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, said the change ensures that elderly people relying on caregivers receive the best and most consistent services.

“It is to stop people from taking advantage of the system, and just when an elderly person gets used to a caregiver, they find themselves alone again,” he said.

Solomon said workers might opt to leave a nursing job if the patient is too demanding and the work too hard.

Regarding the geographical restrictions, Solomon said the aim was to give elderly and disabled people in peripheral areas the care they needed.

He stressed that even though the law was passed, it merely paved the way for the minister to institute the regulations as appropriate.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said the law was illegal and counter to the Supreme Court decision made in 2006.

“The law will hurt the basic rights of migrant workers, especially women,” he said, adding that the government had turned its back on its responsibilities to the elderly and disabled publics, placing it instead on the shoulders of foreign workers.

“I know the government thinks the new law will be good for the employers, but we feel sure it will only be good for the manpower agencies,” said Maharjan, who paid $8,000 to a manpower agency to come to Israel.

Since arriving, Maharjan said she has been forced to change jobs three times. The first time was due to the stress of taking care of a woman with severe Alzheimers, and in her second position she said her employer did not take to her. Maharjan has been with her current employer the last two-and-ahalf years.

“Caregivers cannot afford to get to a point where they lose their visas because of these new restrictions,” said Noga Shafer, coordinator of Koach L’ovdim–Democratic Workers’ Organization in Jerusalem.

“Many pay as much as $10,000 to manpower companies in order to come here.

They have to borrow that money or take out loans and usually spend their first few years here paying it back,” Shafer said.

Shafer, whose organization represents roughly 200 out of some 50,000 legal caregivers in Israel, said this issue spurred migrant workers for the first time to speak out for their rights.

On Saturday night, a few hundred caregivers gathered opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence to make clear their disdain for the new law.

The Caregivers Union, which is working together with Kav La’oved (The workers’ helpline) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the change in law is a throw-back to the regulations that tied migrant workers to their employers, overturned by the Supreme Court in 2006.

“If there was a law stating that Israeli workers could not quit their jobs or could not move to a different part of the country, then no one would think twice about whether this was right or wrong, but because this law is about foreign workers it passes very easily,” said Idit Lebovitch, caregiving field coordinator for Kav La’oved.

“We do not see any difference between the rights of foreign workers or Israeli workers. All workers should have rights,” she said.

“Even though they are not Israeli, we still have to fight to protect their rights and make sure they are able to choose. If this law is really implemented then it will once again create slavery conditions,” Lebovitch said. She said no other Western country imposes such restrictions on migrant caregivers and that within the EU, foreign workers who spend over five years in a country are entitled to request citizenship.

“We are using these people like a work tool and when we have finished with them we just send them packing,” she said.

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