Parties vie for credit as Knesset readies final minimum wage bill

Chaos erupted in the Knesset session as players from across the political spectrum lashed out at one another.

Amir Peretz (photo credit: REUTERS)
Amir Peretz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset on Wednesday approved a bill to raise the minimum wage in a stormy election- time session, in which politicians lobbed accusations over attempts to take credit for the popular measure.
The bill, approved in committee and three readings in marathon sessions, will increase the minimum wage from its current NIS 4,300 a month to NIS 4,650 in April, NIS 4,825 next July, and NIS 5,000 at the start of 2017.
But chaos erupted in the Knesset session as players from across the political spectrum lashed out at one another.
Calling the bill “enormous social news” and giving credit to many actors for advancing it, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett took the opportunity to slam the Labor Party.
“My friends in the Labor Party, I think that this past year has been a historic year, in which we managed to prove that when you don’t just talk, like you often do, it’s possible to bring about a real revolution in the field,” he said.
He accused Labor of being held captive by the Histadrut labor federation, and claimed victory in advancing the minimum wage bill and a deal on contract workers, where Labor had failed. Other reforms, he said, were possible only because Labor was not in the government.
“The secret is not to be the servants of the unions, but to serve all of Israel,” he said. “In two years we’ve accomplished what you have not managed in 30 years.”
Hatnua MK Amir Peretz, who is running with his former party, Labor, in the upcoming elections, excoriated Bennett for the remarks.
“You are an insolent manipulator and liar. Three months ago you voted against a similar bill that I proposed,” Peretz said. “You, in all your audacity, are attacking the players whose efforts allow you to stand here. Did you initiate anything? You, in all your audacity, attack the Histadrut, without which this would not have happened.”
As a result of the exchange between Bennett and Peretz, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein halted debate.
“If the atmosphere will be what we saw in the last few minutes, there will not be a law today. I will not allow you to conduct election rallies in the plenary,” he said.
Still, the mudslinging continued.
Labor MK Merav Michaeli said that just a year ago, Bennett called the minimum wage increase a populist moved that would slightly help some workers by putting others out of work. Fellow Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich said nobody in the government could take credit for the deal.
“This bill is the result of an agreement between the Manufacturers [Association] and the Histadrut, without the intervention of the government.
Only in elections do Netanyahu and Lapid remember that [a rich] and a poor person have the same vote at the ballot box,” she said Indeed, agreement on the outlines of a minimum wage rise took place in early December under threat of a general strike from the Histadrut. As the coalition collapsed that week, the Histadrut agreed to the terms with the Manufacturers Association, which the government then advanced.
“Minister Bennett believes that if you tell the same lie over and over again, someone will believe it,” Meretz MK Ilan Gilon told Bennett. “As long as we live in a country where someone earns in one month what another earns in 40 years, we have a problem.”
Hadash MK Dov Henin, who initiated legislation to increase the minimum wage to NIS 30 an hour (NIS 5,300 a month) last year, also accused Bennett of taking credit for measures he has previously opposed.
“They told us that an increase is a disaster and would have an economic price. That’s what those who are boasting about the increase today said,” Henin said, promising to continue fighting for an increase to NIS 30 an hour.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, however, said Labor chairman Isaac Herzog did not support the proposal in the last term.
The legislation included a clause that salary increases generally excluded from calculating wages would count toward the minimum, meaning that the increase will not help those whose base salary remains below the minimum. In 2013, a third of public sector workers earning minimum wage actually took home an average of NIS 8,800 due to various additions.
At the behest of Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar, an amendment was added to the bill increasing disability benefits.