The coalition displayed its resilience again Wednesday when two bills proposing an increase in the minimum wage were defeated by consecutive votes of 52-39 and 57-34.
Sponsors MK Amir Peretz (Labor) and MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) spent over 40 minutes addressing the Knesset plenum in the hope of convincing coalition lawmakers to defy coalition discipline and vote for the bills. But with the exception of a handful of MKs, even MKs representing economically impacted sectors held out against the sponsors’ pressure.
Both bills, submitted separately, sought to raise the minimum wage to NIS 4,600. The sponsors complained that the current minimum wage did not ensure that families with a single wage-earner remained above the poverty line. If, on the other hand, the bills had passed, claimed Sheetrit, 28 percent of the working poor would break through the poverty line.
But Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who took the podium to explain why the government opposed the bills, said that raising the minimum wage would lead to the unemployment of tens of thousands of workers, whose minimum-wage jobs would be outsourced to countries with lower wages.
Peretz, in turn, attacked Steinitz, accusing him of looking out for the interests of big capital. He also taunted ministers from his own party, accusing them of neglecting the party’s social-democratic agenda in order to curry favor with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Sheetrit directed his assault against Shas, which he said was turning its back on its largely low-income voters’ interests.
Peretz singled out for humiliation Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, suggesting that Herzog vote for the bills “and then send a bouquet to Netanyahu so that [Herzog] can become the future Labor Party leader.”
In fact, when the roll-call vote was taken, Shas chairman Interior Minister Eli Yishai refused to cast a vote opposing the bills, but also was unwilling to go on record opposing the coalition.
Yishai was present during the initial vote, but left the plenum altogether for the recall required by protocol in any roll-call vote.
MK Haim Katz (Likud) was the only member of the ruling party to break ranks entirely and vote in favor of the bills; Labor MKs Yacimovich, Eitan Cabel and Daniel Ben-Simon all supported Peretz’s legislation as well.
In contrast, the Labor ministers were unanimous in their opposition to the legislation.
“This is not the kind of thing over which one brings down governments,” explained Braverman. “There is a coalition game; it is not new, and everyone understands it.
“We tried to pass [Peretz’s bill] in the cabinet, but [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman let us down. Now we have no choice but to vote in support of the coalition.”
Hours after the vote, Herzog addressed his supporters in a special announcement on his personal Web site, saying he “felt an obligation to explain” his vote on the two bills.
“From my perspective as welfare minister, it was a vote in opposition to my over-arching world-view, which is that the salaries at the lowest income levels must be raised.”
Herzog explained that he had led the campaign in support of Peretz’s
bill in both the cabinet and the Ministerial Committee for Legislation,
but had been defeated due to “the stubborn opposition of the Finance
Ministry, the Bank of Israel, the Economics Committee, and others.”
Instead, Herzog said, he had been reassured that negative income tax
would be expanded, starting in the coming budget, and that the minimum
wage issue would be raised again within a forum comprising the
government, the Histadrut and employers’ representatives.
“After the decision was made, and as a member of the government subject
to coalition discipline, I voted today together with my colleagues in
accordance with the government decision made last Sunday,” Herzog
“I don’t like it, but that is the practical political situation in
which we live. These are the rules of the game in a democratic system
such as ours.
“It might not be well regarded – but it is important to emphasize that
we cannot arrive at a situation in which every man acts as he pleases.”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.