Yishai expands revised Wisconsin Plan

The revised program specifically seeks to target and assist new immigrants, single mothers and those with specific job-skills.

employment line 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
employment line 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai on Monday announced the expansion of the "Lights to Employment" welfare-to-work program that will effectively double the number of people who can participate in the program. The program, which had been approved in July as a replacement for the controversial Wisconsin Plan, currently has some 4,769 participants, however, the initial success of the program was the reason for Yishai's decision to broaden the program to 9,300 participants. "While in one sense it is good time to push more people into the labor market and a good time to offer people jobs, the question is what kind of support system are we offering these people," Professor Rami Friedman, the Dean of the Sarnat School of Management at the Center for Academic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post. "The issue here is that there must be a system that is built into this program in which people have access to counseling- the program cannot only offer them jobs, but it also must convince them to stay in the labor market." The original Wisconsin Plan, or Mehalev in Hebrew, was passed in the Knesset in 2004 as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill with the declared objective of allowing those who receive National Insurance Institute payments to be able to seek employment. The Wisconsin Plan was run as a two-year pilot in four locations - Jerusalem, Ashkelon-Sderot, Nazareth and Hadera-Wadi Ara - by four multi-national companies. The plan was severely criticized since its inception for threatening to take away people's social welfare benefits if they refused to participate, forcing Yishai to scrap the plan in favor of the Lights to Employment program. The new plan was constructed by Yishai and the "Dinur Commission," headed by the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur. The Lights to Employment plan will operate in the same four regions as Wisconsin, however it stipulates that participation is compulsory only for those aged 45 and younger. Those over 45 will no longer be forced to participate, but rather are free to seek employment assistance from the National Employment Service whether or not they are employed. Since its launch some 600 people above the age of 45 have found work through the Lights to Employment program. "It is good that they decided to take out the 45 and above work requirement- they needed to do this," Friedman said. "I hope that those 45 and younger will be able to be successful in the new program." Additionally, the new program specifically seeks to target and assist new immigrants, single mothers and those with specific job-skills. Other changes to the plan include personal tracks for each participant to allow them to join the work force, financial bonuses to those who successfully find work and the establishment of a professional committee to oversee the plan during the next two years. "We identified the problems with the current program and the inter-ministerial committee suggested its solutions," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet when introducing Lights to Employment in July. "It seems as if we are now on the right track and it is clear to everyone that the new program will offer greater chances to the weaker segments of society." In addition to expanding the plan, Yishai appointed a professional team, headed by Prof. Yosi Tamir, to develop new tools aimed at reducing unemployment and increasing workforce participation among the country's underprivileged sectors. Separately, Yishai announced on Monday that he asked the government to ratify the pension agreement reached earlier this year between the Histadrut Labor Federation and the Federation of Israeli Economic Cooperation. As detailed in the agreement, beginning in January 2008 employees who have been working at the same company for at least six months will be immediately eligible to start receiving payments into their pension plans, beginning with allocations of 2.5 percent of their monthly salary, with this number increasing to 5% in 2009, 7.5% in 2010, 10% in 2011, 12.5% in 2012 and 15% in 2013.