Foreign workers in Israel employed under slave conditions?

The Economy Ministry and population administration are not working together to ensure employment rights of foreign workers.

Filipina caregivers training in Manila  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Filipina caregivers training in Manila
(photo credit: REUTERS)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, in his annual report presented to Knesset speaker MK Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday, expressed concern that no work procedure has been formulated to ensure a flow of information between the Economy Ministry and the Population, Immigration and Border Crossing Authority, leading to infringements on the rights of foreign workers.
Authority over foreign workers is divided between the two and, as such, a high level of cooperation is needed to maintain the rights of these workers.
According to the laws regarding foreign workers, if an employer violates their rights, the employer can have its permit to employ foreign workers revoked.
The Economy Ministry found over 130 employers that violated the rights of foreign workers in 2012 and 2013.
While some of those employers were fined or indicted for the offenses, the Economy Ministry never handed this information or knowledge about police investigations into exploitation of foreign workers over to the population administration.
Under these conditions, “the Population Administration may be renewing employment permits for those suspected of employing workers under conditions of slavery,” the report said.
Furthermore, the report states that the Population Administration did not receive reports from employers in the fields of agriculture and caregiving on the wages paid to their employees. These reports are meant to assist the Population Administration to ensure that the rights of foreign workers are not infringed upon. Shapira put the onus on the Population Administration for not acting to obtain these reports.
Moreover, Shapira wrote that, despite the administration receiving information that hundreds of foreign workers are being paid directly to foreign bank accounts, it did not act on this information. The regulations on foreign workers state that all payments must be made to Israeli bank accounts to ensure that they are being paid a proper wage.
The administration also neglected to complete the investigation of two workplaces that were thought to have violated the rights of foreign workers, the Comptroller determined.
One of the important tools to ensure the rights of foreign workers is an effective means of receiving complaints and dealing with them properly. While the Population Administration operates a hotline to provide information and collect complaints from foreign workers brought over through bilateral agreements, approximately 63 percent of the foreign workers in Israel are not here under such arrangements.
As such, these workers have no official recourse when their rights are violated.
Moreover, the report found that complaints made by these workers not through the official hotline were not recorded by the administration nor were they followed up or dealt with in any way.
The report also determined that the complaints being dealt with are taking far too long to settle, noting that grievances filed in 2011 still had not been dealt with by the end of the Comptroller’s investigation, three years later.
Foreign workers are generally given five-year permits to work in Israel and the extraordinarily long time it takes the Economy Ministry to deal with their complaints leads the Comptroller to worry that their permits will run out before their rights are protected, the report said.
Approximately 9% of the workforce in Israel are foreign workers. In 2013, some 87,000 foreign workers resided in the country, including legal foreign workers and those who had entered illegally and stayed beyond their visa allowance.
Approximately 62% are employed as caregivers; 26% as agricultural workers; 8% in the building industry; and some 4% in other fields.
The report pointed out the Supreme Court ruling that since these people are allowed into the country, they are protected by its laws and that if Israelis are to enjoy the benefits of their work, they are duty bound to bear the burden of the workers’ rights, and not ensuring these rights is exploitative and not consistent with the morals of a Jewish and democratic state that values human rights.