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(photo credit: Archive)
Ninety-two percent of employers have violated the country's labor laws, according to a report set to be released on Sunday by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
One of the most disturbing findings of the report, based on data collected by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, is that the government itself frequently violates these laws.
One of the reasons ACRI cites for the fact that many employers trample on the law with impunity, systematically depriving workers of their basic rights and monetary benefits, is that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce employs a total of 200 work inspectors, many of them part-time, to supervise law enforcement of all the labor laws in the country.
Of these, only 18 supervise enforcement of some 20 laws aimed at protecting the rights of workers vis-a-vis employers.
The group is set to release a 100-page report entitled "Working without Dignity" to mark International Human Rights Week, which begins on Sunday.
According to the report, the ministry carried out a country-wide survey of how employers observe the labor laws, and found that in addition to the huge numbers that violated the laws to some degree, 15% violated them in a severe way.
According to the report, most of the labor laws were passed in the 1950s, at a time when Israel was still a social welfare state dedicated to protecting industrial workers and other salaried employees. In those days, it was expected that workers would remain with their employers for many years.
The laws passed in that era dealt with such issues as minimum amount of rest from work, minimum wage, protection of working minors, protection of women, protection of salaries and compensation for dismissal.
ACRI found that those who suffered the most from the change in social attitudes towards work, community and mutual responsibility were the weakest members of society including immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, immigrant (foreign) workers, minors and women.
The change in the status of these and other workers has been made possible by new types of employment arrangements. These include a substantial growth in part-time and temporary workers, freelance workers, and even "hidden" workers, who are not reported to the authorities.
A major change in employment arrangements is the appearance of manpower companies which supply workers to companies but hire them and pay their salaries. According to the report, most of these employees - many of whom work as guards of cleaners - are paid about 60% of the average wage.
Even when the starting salary is the same as someone hired by the company itself, the manpower worker does not enjoy any of the benefits that regular employers attain in labor negotiations with public and private sector employees.
The public sector accounts for some 40% of manpower company employees and can be quite ruthless in their exploitation of the system. For example, the Health Ministry employs 4,500 workers, including doctors and nurses, who theoretically work for a manpower company called The Association for Public Health Services. The manpower company was established by the Health Ministry itself in order to avoid paying these employees all the benefits to which regular workers are entitled to by law.
In February 2006, the National Labor Court ruled that the manpower company was a fictitious entity established for the sole purpose of paying those "hired" by it, when the actual hiring and definition of duties was done by the ministry itself.
Another type of manpower company also provides the equipment that its hired workers use - such as guns for guards. Known as service contractors, some of these companies have been found to violate labor laws by paying workers less than the minimum wage, forcing them to work overtime hours without mandatory overtime pay, and firing workers without paying compensation. In some cases, the employers, including government employers, have been found to be largely responsible for these violations because they force the service companies to bid so low for contracts that the companies do not earn enough to pay their workers properly.
The report analyzed how employers violate the labor laws, such as the minimum wage law. For example, they do not declare all of the hours worked by the employee so that the number declared will be in keeping with payment according to the law, even though the employee is actually being paid much less. In some cases, employers declare that their workers are "apprentices" even though they have sufficient experience and do the same work as a regular employee.
Regarding the law forbidding employers from withholding salaries to workers for work already done, ACRI cited local council workers who had not been paid for many months. While the report was being written, this issue triggered a Histadrut strike which, reportedly, has succeeded in solving the problem.
ACRI wrote that there was insufficient manpower in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce not only to discover employers' wrongdoing, but also to prosecute them. There are only five lawyers in the ministry dealing with litigation of these matters. ACRI said that in lieu of prosecution, the ministry can fine employers for violating the law. However, the fines are low and do not serve as a deterrent.
As a result, some workers sue the employers directly in the labor courts.
However, there are only 56 judges in four district courts and one national court to hear some 100,000 lawsuits filed annually.â€¢