At least 47,000 small and medium-sized businesses could be forced to close their doors by the end of 2009, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Monday.
Ten percent of the country's businesses will have no choice but to close by year-end, according to the ministry's research, he said at the Employment During the Economic Crisis conference in Jerusalem.
"Since I took over this position two months ago, I have been occupied day and night trying to figure out how to increase the number of employed people in Israel," Ben-Eliezer said. "It is a problem that will not stop bothering me."
All departments in the ministry have been told to look into how to "stop the wave of firings and how to increase employment opportunities," he said.
According to data presented by Ben-Eliezer, 17,600 more businesses than usual could face closure this year, 85% of which are independent companies that employ one person, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.
"These statistics speak for themselves," he said. "They prove what we already suspected from talking to our friends and neighbors."
Small and medium-sized businesses constitute 95% of the private business sector in Israel, Ben-Eliezer said.
"We see this sector as one of the most essential in the Israeli business market," he said. "We plan to request from the government the tools needed to deal with this crisis."
Ben-Eliezer said he would push for improved credit ratings from banks and other money lenders so that smaller businesses could make it through the recession without having to close.
Employment Service director Yossi Farhi told The Jerusalem Post the key to reducing the country's growing unemployment rate was to help small and medium-sized businesses.
"If 30,000 small businesses took on just a quarter of an employee, then we would be in a much better employment situation all around," he said.
One of the Employment Service's main projects is to encourage start-ups among those who have lost their jobs in recent months, Farhi said.