An African migrant worker sleeps on a bench of a bus station in south Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The reception room of Kav LaOved, an NGO that advocates workers’ rights in Israel, fills with dozens of migrant caregivers every week.
They sit patiently and expectantly, waiting to discuss their cases with volunteers who conduct an intake process. Although most of them come to receive a calculation of benefits, these meetings also provide them with the opportunity to tell their stories.
Marcie from Sri Lanka has worked in Israel for three years through a caregiver’s visa, but has never been allowed to do her job. The family that employs her requires her to undertake outdoor manual labor and take care of their 10 dogs, as well as clean and cook. She has never been permitted to care for the elder man that she was hired for, and does not receive days off. When she recently asked for two Saturdays a month off, and half of the month working inside the house in the position she was hired for, she was fired without notice and asked to move out immediately. When she asked her working agency for assistance regarding the situation, they went to the house and retrieved her belongings, but refused to negotiate with her employers. She came to Kav LaOved because, in her words, “I want to do something right, because they have been wrong. ” She resolved to use this experience to inform the family of their labor rights violations and ensure that the family’s next caregiver does not share her experience.
As Marcie told her story, however, she repeatedly affirmed with her husband that she was not providing too much information. Despite their entitlement to justice and compensation, caregivers still live in fear of their employers. Currently, through the Israeli employment law, they lack agency. The Israeli employment system imposes several restrictions upon caregivers’ visas, making it challenging to end employment based on abuse. Caregivers must maneuver through stringent visa restrictions, including being bound to specific regions of Israel and facing summoning for “administrative clarification” if they switch through three employers in two years. This administrative clarification is likely to result in revocation of their visa and effective expulsion from Israel. Caregivers are also bound to employers through the allocation of “humanitarian visas,” which tie them to their new employers if they are hired after four years and three months of residency in Israel. Caregivers cannot leave these employers without the threat of deportation. After seven years of residency, caregivers must leave the country, regardless of circumstances.
Sandra from India, another caregiver waiting to review her calculations, can relate firsthand to the disheartening caregiver visa process. She has worked in this country for almost seven years, and her visa is about to expire. She does not understand why her visa is so disposable. Even though her most recent employer never paid her on time, she was afraid to leave her job because she did not want to lose her visa. She worked four days overtime, and was fired after asking for four break days to compensate.
Now that she has worked in the country for almost seven years, she cannot apply for a new job. She expressed frustration over the lack of workers’ rights in the caretaker sector, and does not believe that Israel welcomes workers from other countries. She shared her story because she wants to change the complacency that she has witnessed regarding these issues. In her words, “No one knows what’s going on in Israel; everyone thinks everything is okay but nothing is okay.”
Currently, organizations are taking action to rectify the restrictive policies that make caregivers feel so unwelcome in Israel. Organizations around the world are now rallying through a campaign called “Our Hands” to share information with domestic workers and encourage collective mobilization.
Through social media and dispersing of materials, “Our Hands” hopes to provide domestic workers with a means of ensuring rights protection, and to facilitate the ratification and enforcement of C189, a convention that attempted to rectify the marginalization of domestic workers and recognize them for their significant contribution to the global economy.
By providing caregivers with the support and information needed to advocate for rightful treatment, organizations are establishing a foundation for potential change in policy. Kav LaOved’s office continues to fill with caregivers who are becoming increasingly aware of their entitlements to benefits, and increasingly angered by the number of restrictions that prevent them from seeking better employment opportunities. By sharing their stories, they hope to invoke change, and create a working environment that welcomes migrants, rather than alienate them. Spreading awareness of the injustices that caregivers face, especially the lack of control when it comes to seeking employment, will make Israel a more equitable and humane country regarding workers’ rights, and create a necessary shift in the types of stories being told.The author is a psychology major at the University of Chicago and has interned at Kav LaOved – Workers’ Hotline NGO.