'No compensation without declaration'

Workers could be left without wages for time in shelters.

Both workers and employers are currently set to bear the brunt of losses alone, if the government does not make a series of declarations defining the limits of compensation for work hours missed due to hostilities in the North. "As long as the necessary regulations are not in place, in practice it is impossible to receive any compensation on indirect damages to the business sector," said Nir Kantor, director of the Department of Industrial and Business Economics at the Manufacturers Association of Israel. "Neither workers nor employers will receive compensation." Only those suffering losses from a direct rocket impact can currently claim damages, he noted. The government must declare areas affected by rocket attacks to be on the conflict line, declare a state of emergency and make it retroactive to cover the days of paralysis that industry and business have suffered thus far, Kantor said. If the government passes the necessary measures, claims could be made to cover indirect damages as well, he said, including workers' wages for days they were forced to stay at home, lost profits and output and lost inventory in time-sensitive industries, such as food production. Employers would then pay the workers the wage as if they had come to work and request the amount back from the government. "But it's still too early to tell since we don't yet know if the regulations will be implemented and if they will be retroactive," Kantor said. Another problem is faced by workers who have been stranded in bomb shelters in the North and, therefore, are prevented from getting to work in the center of the country or other areas that will not likely be included in compensation agreements, said Histadrut labor union spokeswoman Sharon Shahaf. Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini called on the government Monday to grant such workers compensation as well, she said. Eini is also working to reinstate and apply an order preventing lay-offs during war, which expired in 2003. Many workers are concerned that if the crisis continues for the whole week or longer that they could lose their jobs or be told by employers to "fend for themselves" and look for work elsewhere, Shahaf said. "But the most serious matter we are hearing of is employers taking advantage of the situation and forcing workers to come to work in any event," even if the workplace is not protected, she said, referring to calls received by the national union's special hotline set up for the crisis (1700-700-331). More than 8,000 calls were received from workers affected by the rocket attacks and business closures Sunday, the first day of its operation. Each day at noon, both the Histadrut and employer representatives participate in the regular Homefront Command meetings to help solve problems as they arise, she added. In response to frequently asked questions received by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry crisis hotline (02-666-2080), the ministry clarified that businesses north of the Acre-Safed Road - including defense contractors and food producers - can only open if they have been declared to be a vital service after contacting the ministry's crisis administration center. Workers at factories determined to be vital services must come to work if asked to do so, the ministry said. At other facilities, employers are not required to pay wages of absent workers, even if the workers are following army orders to stay at home. But, the ministry said, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai would seek to form a policy giving assistance "in some instances" in contacts with Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson. Employers choosing to pay absent workers wages will be eligible to receive compensation only if both the a state of emergency is declared, which would prohibit employees from coming to work, and Hirchson declared the employee's place of residence to be a town on the line of conflict with the approval of the Knesset Finance Committee. "Until a law requiring the employer to pay his workers' wage is passed, if at all, and the two above conditions are not fulfilled, the two sides are permitted to reach an arrangement relative to the payment by which absent days will be counted against vacation or, alternatively, through making up lost work hours at another time," the ministry said. The hotline also answers questions related to day care facilities, lost days in professional training courses and other problems.