The Histadrut on Tuesday filed suit against 61 major chains and shops, claiming they are infringing on workers' rights under the sit-down law and are failing to provide proper chairs at the workplace.
"Our inspection showed that in almost all sectors the law is not being applied," said Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut Labor Federation at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. "We are demanding a fine of around NIS 20 million in compensation from the different chains as a way of deterrence until the law is applied to its full extent."
The legal prosecution suit, which was filed to the regional court in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, is based on the "enforcement operation" conducted by the Histadrut Labor Federation and Noal, the Working and Studying Youth Union.
Over recent months, Noal activists conducted inspections at different times of the day in 500 shops and business chains across the major shopping malls and commercial centers in the Gush Dan area. The activists took pictures to support cases they say are in violation of the law, which were found in 61 chains including the fashion chains Castro, Renuar, Dan Cassidi, Crazy Line, Crocker and Nine West; food chains such as Tal Bagels, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's and at the Canaan Spa Hotel.
"We found that although many employees know that they have the right to demand a chair to sit down, the majority are afraid to make any demands or complaints to their employer as they are afraid of losing their job," said Yoram Bar-Kovetz, spokesperson of Noal. "Our inspections revealed that 60 percent of the shops were evading the law. Either there was a lack of chairs or unsuitable chairs. This campaign is not only for the rights of the workers who are members of the Histadrut but for all workers."
Also speaking at the press conference, Shirley Schweitzer, a former receptionist at the Canaan Spa Hotel in Safed who was fired following a number of complaints regarding the lack of chairs, said employees behind the reception desk were forced to stand during day and night shifts.
In February, the Knesset passed "the right to work sitting down law," which came into effect in May. The law states that employers must provide chairs at the work place for cashiers, salespersons and service workers unless they can prove that "the job at hand cannot be carried out from a sitting position." In addition, the chairs provided must have backrests for use during rest periods. Employers violating the law are required to pay compensation of NIS 20,000 without the employee having to prove damage or violation and up to NIS 200,000 if damage is proved. Workers as well as workers' committees and worker rights NGOs have the right to charge employers.
"Our inspection shows that laws in this country are not being enforced. We urge the government to increase inspection to ensure enforcement of labor laws," said Eini.
In response, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry told The Jerusalem Post, that inspection and enforcement of the workers' right to sit down law was not under the authority of the ministry.
"Violations of the law by employers have to be submitted to the national courts by the employee or a representative body of employees," said the ministry.
The law was proposed following a long struggle with the management of the Superpharm chain, which refused to allow their cashiers to sit down. That situation raised awareness over the dismal working conditions of many other Israeli workers.
"Inspections at Superpharm chains found that although cashiers were provided with a chair as requested by the law, the chairs were not appropriate and did not comply with the regulations set out in the law," said Bar-Kovetz.
The Histadrut is operating a helpline (1-700-700-331) on Wednesday and Thursday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. for employees to call in for any queries on the law.
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