Campaign warns against hiring illegal foreign workers

Labor activist: Lack of minimum-wage enforcement makes legal foreign workers more of a problem.

By
May 3, 2010 08:24
3 minute read.
Thai worker on farm in South

foreign worker311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

In recent weeks, TV viewers have been shown a series of commercials sponsored by the Interior Ministry that make an emotional appeal to Israelis to stop hiring illegal foreign workers, lest they endanger the livelihood of Israeli families like their own.

In each of the three TV spots, an Israeli turns to the camera and describes a strong desire to work, but says that no one will hire him or her, the implication being that the jobs are being taken by foreign workers.

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As the screen fades to black and white, a voice-over says, “every time you prefer to illegally hire a foreign worker, you take away the job of another Israeli.” Finally, the words “Don’t hurt their livelihood, don’t illegally hire foreign workers,” appears on the screen.

The ads, which have also appeared on billboards and in other media, have become a source of controversy since they began. This past Friday, the popular satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet lampooned the commercials with a skit showing a crest-fallen Israeli talking about how no one will hire him for certain jobs.

Every time the Israeli, played by Mariano Idelman, confronts the requirements of the job, which are shown on subtitles at the bottom of the screen, he becomes completely uninterested. The skit ends with the message “every time you don’t illegally hire a foreign worker, you are taking away an Israeli’s excuse not to work.”

Sigal Rozen, public activities coordinator for the Hotline for Migrant Workers, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that she takes issue with the ad campaign, saying that it misses the point.

“The real problem is the fact that you have legal foreign workers who are being paid below the minimum wage by Israeli employers,” she said.

Such legal workers are only allowed to work in a certain field for a certain employer, and if they are to leave that workplace they become “illegal.” Under this system, the legal workers are trapped and can be underpaid by their employers, she said.

If the government wanted to fight this phenomenon, it was would focus instead on enforcing currently existing labor laws, including the minimum wage law, she continued.

“Every worker in Israel, legal or illegal, is supposed to receive the minimum wage. The problem is that there is a total lack of enforcement of these laws. If they used the money from the ad campaigns for enforcement and on raising the minimum wage, there would be no incentive for people to hire underpaid foreign workers.”

While the Interior Ministry and the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority did not respond to a Post inquiry by press time, the question-and-answer page on the Web site presented in the commercials presents the authorities’ standpoint on the issue of employing foreign workers.

In response to the question “Why is the state expelling foreign workers who are already in Israel and on the other hand allowing new foreign workers to work here?” the site responds:

“To prevent a sustained settlement of foreign workers in Israel, the state allows the foreign worker to receive a temporary work permit with limits. The state only allows a foreign worker to enter Israel if he is taking the place of a foreign worker who left.”

The section also contains a response to one of the most common contentions, that foreign workers are only filling jobs Israelis don’t want.

In response, the site reads: “past experiences show that when the number of foreign workers in a certain field drops, for instance in construction, the number of Israelis working in the field rises.”

The section continues: “when employers choose to hire, against the law, illegal foreign workers at low wages without social benefits, the average wages for Israelis in these fields drop and ‘it no longer pays’ for them to work in these fields.”


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