Most firms unaware of laws for foreigners' employment

Despite efforts in recent years by authorities to reduce the number of foreign workers hired here illegally, a new study released this week by the Ministry of Labor, Trade and Industry has found that the majority of Israeli employers are still unfamiliar with the laws for employing migrant workers. According to the study, which sampled 1,173 Israeli employers, 32 percent of those questioned did not even realize that hiring foreign workers without the official work permits is a crime punishable with a stiff fine. For those who did know that fines were issued to those hiring foreign workers illegally, 70% didn't know how much such a fine would be. In addition, while close to 80% said that foreign workers were entitled to the same working conditions as Israeli employees, most of those questioned did not realize that non-citizens were entitled to one day off per week. The majority of those questioned for the study, conducted during the first half of 2007, said they were not familiar with the Labor, Trade and Industry Ministry's department that deals with foreign workers' employment issues. More than 200,000 foreign nationals are currently living in Israel, although the ministry estimates that at least 45% of them are here illegally. That figure does not include some 8,000 migrant workers from Africa, who in recent months crossed over Israel's border with Egypt. Many of those are considered by the state to be refugees. In the first nine months of 2006, employers were fined a total of NIS 32 million - the current maximum fine for hiring an illegal foreign worker is NIS 10,000 - and 2,832 files were opened by the ministry against employers suspected of breaking the law.