A callous approach to caregiver reform

The law stipulates that the welfare money given by the government for the purpose of employing caregivers must go through a job broker.

By ROY WAGNER
October 25, 2006 19:50
4 minute read.
A callous approach to caregiver reform

foreign worker 88. (photo credit: )

 
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There are more than 40,000 elderly and disabled people in Israel who are recognized by the authorities as entitled to employ migrant caregivers. These people need care, and migrants need jobs. So far so good. What's not so good is the large number of migrant caregivers who were charged thousands of dollars for a legal job but ended up defrauded, with no jobs and no legal status. What's worse is the many workers who find themselves trafficked or enslaved, faced with the choice between accepting whatever abusive or illegal employment conditions are offered by their legally assigned master or the prospects of dismissal and deportation. The High Court of Justice called this system by its proper name: slavery. The authorities finally realized (with the help of a court order) that this situation is detrimental for both caregivers and the people who rely on them. An interministerial committee was assigned to draft an alternative employment scheme. The committee set out to resolve underemployment among caregivers who entered Israel legally, their prevalent illegal underpayment, exploitation and abuse, and the false demand for workers created by the high mediation fees caregivers are forced to pay for a promised (but not always delivered) legal job. AT THE root of this evil: job brokers. Job brokers are the ones who illegally charge migrant caregivers thousands of dollars for work; they are the ones who fraudulently bring several workers on a single client's permit; and they are sometimes the ones who threaten workers with a choice between deportation and docile acceptance of exploitation and abuse. And yet, what the interministerial committee recommended as a solution to these problems is more power to the job brokers. A few privileged brokers will have an exclusive right to import caregivers and assign them to clients. How is the new system going to work? The few brokers granted the right to recruit and assign migrant caregivers will also be charged with informing caregivers and their clients as to their rights and duties. They will be charged with ensuring that workers actually have jobs and are properly paid. They are supposed to provide training to caregivers and social assistance to their clients. In short, they are supposed to carry out most of the state's regulative functions. At the same time, the interests of job brokers are precisely the opposite. For many job brokers, the sole interest is to bring as many migrant caregivers as possible, to illegally charge them as much money as they possibly can and to keep caregivers' wages low enough to maintain the high demand for their services. In theory, under the proposed scheme, migrant caregivers will be free to change employers and even job brokers. But that's only in theory. In practice, for the caregiver to maintain his or her legal status, the caregiver will have to receive a placement letter from the job broker. This letter of placement grants job brokers an exclusive power to decide where the caregiver will work, regardless of the worker's wishes. Under the proposed scheme, job brokers will be penalized for workers who are not properly paid by their employers. The brokers, therefore, have a motivation to silence such workers, rather than help them stand up for their rights. This also motivates brokers to forcefully and illegally deport "troublemakers" - that is, workers who stand up for their rights, as is sometimes the case today with migrant agricultural workers. Since the proposed scheme stipulates that job brokers will only be able to bring new workers into Israel as long as they don't have too many unemployed workers, brokers are likely to fraudulently report unemployed workers as employed (just as today many caregivers are fraudulently brought to work for people who are eligible to employ a migrant caregiver, but don't actually want one). To get assigned to a decent employer, caregivers will have to "bribe" job brokers, paying more and more money as they go - an illegal practice already prevalent today. And now for the $64,000 question: Where is the money? Job brokers will be allowed to charge clients and caregivers only a few thousand shekels (although in reality caregivers are charged much more). But the bulk of their income is supposed to come from - welfare! The law stipulates that the welfare money given by the government for the purpose of employing caregivers must go through a job broker. These brokers pocket as much as half of this money. Money which is supposed to pay for caregivers ends up as the middleman's profit margin. The disabled person ends up less likely to be able to pay the caregiver what the law demands. IN THE care-giving business there are two sides: workers and disabled people. But the government's new scheme is geared toward the interests of a third party: job brokers. Both disabled people's organizations and worker rights organizations suggested alternative schemes. These schemes agree on most points: flexibility on both sides of employment, a regulated recruitment process which will prevent illegal mediation fees and conscription of unsuitable workers, and effective enforcement of the rights of workers and the disabled alike. But the interministerial committee never bothered to consult any worker rights or disabled people's organizations. They did not bother to listen, and came up with a scheme that is designed to gratify big job brokers. Is this due to the illicit influence that strong market players have on decision makers? Perhaps. But it is more likely the result of a concept of government which privatizes any form of responsibility, and assigns power to an oligopoly under the title of a free market - a market which is free to enslave workers and provide bad service to people in need. The writer is a board member for worker rights NGO Kav LaOved and lectures at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

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