Protests abound as week starts with minimum wage and cost of living concerns

The 'Minimum 40' movement has protested Finance Minister Liberman’s plan to increase the minimum wage, arguing that this undermines a current law that could more significantly increase wages.

 Members of the "Standing Together" movement protest for equal rights of financial support, outside the Israeli parliament on May 14, 2020.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Members of the "Standing Together" movement protest for equal rights of financial support, outside the Israeli parliament on May 14, 2020.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

As the cabinet was voting on Sunday for Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s proposed plan to increase the minimum wage by 0.54 shekels per hour, as part of a long-term increase of the national minimum wage, members of the “Minimum 40” movement protested outside, claiming that the plan is actually a move to prevent a more fair increase to the minimum wage as currently dictated by law.

Liberman’s outline, embellished with promises to add paid leave days and improve home-life flexibility, aims to raise the minimum wage from NIS 29.12 per hour to NIS 33 per hour by December 2025. Critics, including Minimum 40, argue that this is a move to undermine the current law that would see a much more significant and immediate increase to the minimum wage.

Alon-Lee Green, Standing Together’s co-director, explained that Liberman’s plan is not as beneficial to workers as it seems.

“According to the law, the minimum wage should be updated frequently [in tandem with] the average wage in the economy. Since the average wage has drastically gone up, the minimum wage was supposed to go up. Liberman’s move freezes the update, bringing instead a low increase of 54 agurot. This is actually an erosion of the minimum wage.”

The vote on the outline was suddenly added to Sunday’s cabinet meeting agenda hours before it took place. Green sharply criticized the move on Twitter.

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman seen during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on November 3, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman seen during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on November 3, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

“Like thieves in the night, the government announced right now – four hours before the cabinet meeting – that on the agenda would be the outline of Liberman’s hit on the minimum wage. Instead of listening to public criticism of the economic plan and the outline of the Treasury, the government is bringing an update (which is actually a reduction) of the minimum wage by 54 agurot. Shocking and infuriating.”

Knesset member Naama Lazimi also spoke out in protest against the proposed plan, stating that it “will worsen the situation of one million workers who earn the minimum wage.... The plan erodes their wages, and eliminates their linkage to the average [national] wage.”

She added, “The cost of living that explodes in our faces is the result of the same stingy policy that has been here for the past 20 years. Instead of implementing public criticism of the economic plan, the government is trying to pass under the radar a plan that will hurt all workers in Israel. If the ‘change government’ really wants to go a new route, it must reset and quickly, and provide real solutions to the cost of living, raising the minimum wage to a proper amount of 40 shekels per hour.”

Lazimi referred to the steep cost of living in Israel, a subject that has been hotly discussed for the past two weeks. Last week the prime minister announced a plan which aimed to address the issue, promising tax credits for working parents, tariff reductions and a host of smaller changes.

That plan, according to some, is not enough. A lobby group consisting of Knesset members, ministers, public figures and economic officials announced on Sunday that they will launch a protest against the high cost of living in Israel on Monday, February 14. The group, known as the Lobby for the Struggle Against the Cost of Living in Israel 2022, will be led by Knesset members Uriel Buso (Shas) and Michael Biton (Blue and White). It demands “clear answers on the cost of living,” a representative told The Jerusalem Post.

They pointed out that Biton has already announced that he does not accept the economics plan as presented, and that last week’s announcement “wasn’t a plan at all, as far as we’re concerned.”