Reports of discrimination in the workplace based on the age, race, gender or nationality of a person, as well as other prejudices from employers, has significantly increased over the past year, Israel’s first Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Tziona Koenig- Yair told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
According to Koenig-Yair, who helped to establish the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) two years ago after legislation was approved by the Knesset, noted that the main challenges for 2010 were discriminatory business practices against hiring Arabs and haredim, clear pay discrepancies between the sexes – with women earning far less than their male counterparts, and age discrimination.
“Part of the problem is that there is simply not enough awareness of the law,” commented Koenig-Yair, adding that in addition to its legal work, the EEOC also helps companies to understand the law and work within it.
Overall, 643 complaints of discrimination were received by the commission in 2010, its first full year of taking such complaints. Thirty percent concerned pregnant women, 12% were about age discrimination, 9% were on the basis of gender, 5% because of reserve duty, 4% due to fertility treatments and 40% for a range of other reasons.
Koenig-Yair said that since its creation, the EEOC had taken legal action in 17 cases based on the complaints it had received, with the majority (11) involving discrimination against women.
Examples of the EEOC’s cases include one against the Israel Railways Authority, which decided to make military service a mandatory condition of being employed as a railway “watchman.”
The commission decided that this discriminated against segments of the population that do not serve in the army, specifically Israeli Arabs.
The EEOC told a Labor Court that requiring military service as a
mandatory condition is discriminatory unless proven that the experience
is essential to the specific job and the court accepted the legal
argument, ruling in favored of the plaintiff.
In another ongoing case, two female employees of the Jerusalem
Municipality complained that their pay was significantly less than that
of men in the same department. The EEOC has since filed a lawsuit
against the municipality on those grounds.
Koenig-Yair said, however, that in response to a number of complaints
the commission simply contacted the employer and managed to avoid legal
action by pointing out the discrimination.
“In some cases because of our involvement a person was not made
redundant or a job vacancy stating certain work criteria such as an age
limit or gender requirement was changed,” she said, adding “I have been
pleasantly surprised by the number of employers who are very open and
responsive to our comments and who are willing to cooperate with us.”
Koenig-Yair said that a special twinning project between the commission
and the European Union has also served to boost its activities and
visibility over the past year. The projects created by that partnership
include a database of legal opinions and a guideline to best practices
drawn from experiences in EU countries, she said.
Asked whether the global economic crisis had contributed to the rise in
workplace discrimination over the past year, Koenig-Yair said it was
unlikely, even though the recession has obviously had a huge impact on
the job market.
“We know that discriminatory practices happened long before there was a
recession,” she said, adding that it was the role of the commission to
educate businesses on acceptable practices and behavior in the
“Obviously we are a legal body but we are also here to be helpful to
employers,” said the commissioner, who is in the process of organizing
the EEOC’s annual conference in March aimed at showing how equality can
be an “engine for economic growth.”