MK declares hunger strike over contract workers' rights

"I cannot sit in the Knesset’s subsidized cafeteria and let them starve,’ says Israel Beiteinu parliamentarian Lia Shemtov.

shemtov 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
shemtov 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu) announced during a Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee meeting on Tuesday that she would begin a hunger strike in support of contract workers.
Shemtov said she would not eat until committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud) agrees to promote the bill she proposed along with MKs Haim Amsalem (Shas) and Ya’acov Edri (Kadima) that grants contract workers more rights.
The bill, which passed its first reading in the previous Knesset, would make the person who hires workers via a contractor responsible for those workers and their rights.
“This law puts an end to the continual harm to contract workers in Israel,” Shemtov said.
“The government, which is the largest employer of contract workers in the market, opposes my proposal and is trying to keep it from passing by promising to initiate its own bill or add it to the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s guidelines.”
“There are tens of thousands of starving contract workers,” she stated.
“Until my law is [brought before the committee again] under continuity rules, I have no choice but to start a hunger strike.”
Shemtov recalled that six months ago, she went undercover as a contract worker.
“I cleaned feces and washed blood from surgery rooms, and therefore, until these workers get their rights, I cannot sit in my subsidized cafeteria and let them starve,” she said.
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich told Shemtov that she should urge her Israel Beitenu colleagues to declare a crisis within the coalition over the damage being done to the rights of contract workers.
“If we obligate the bodies outsourcing these services to act responsibly toward contract workers, we will rid them at once of their incentive to employ [the contract workers]. At the same time, employment of contract workers is an ideological stance, and there are no signs that this government will give up on it,” she said.
Acting committee chairman Ilan Gilon (Meretz) called the state “the biggest criminal” in this matter, and recommended appointing an official to every government office who would be responsible for hearing contract workers’ complaints.
“The appointed person will carry criminal responsibility if it is found that they did not act to prevent abuse, exploitation and the violation of contract workers’ rights,” he said.
Ofri Raviv, the deputy chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, said his organization had expected the Treasury to change its tone after a summer of protests over socioeconomic issues, and accused it of continuing to oppose efficient enforcement of contract workers’ rights.
“We won’t relax until we see an end to this ongoing exploitation,” he added.
Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry attorney Debbie Sapir-Eliezer said the ministry would continue to work on a bill that would place managerial, criminal and civil responsibility on the body outsourcing the employment of cleaning and maintenance workers to contract companies.
The debate over contract workers’ rights gained prominence after the release in September of the Trajtenberg report on socioeconomic change, which the Histadrut labor federation claimed legitimized the continuation of public-sector contracting.
The Histadrut and the Finance Ministry are due to update the National Labor Court this Thursday on the progress of their negotiations over the employment status of contract workers. The negotiations were ordered after the Histadrut held a fourhour general strike over the issue early last week.