The fight for minimum wage: The battle may be won but the war continues

Protests outside the home of coalition head reveal split within disabled coalition regarding historical agreement to improve their pensions.

Disabled protesters in front of the home of David Bitan   (photo credit: YUVAL BAGNO)
Disabled protesters in front of the home of David Bitan
(photo credit: YUVAL BAGNO)
Despite the alleged groundbreaking agreement to allocate another NIS 4.2 billion toward the already existing disability- allowance budget over the course of four years, members representing the some 244,000 disabled people in Israel are still unsatisfied.
Following months of dozens of organized road blocking demonstrations throughout the country to draw attention to the lack of funds towards the disabled, the agreement was reached on September 29 between Histadrut (General Organization of Workers) chairperson Avi Nissenkorn, coalition chairman MK David Bitan, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
It details an increase of the existing disability pension in proportion to the severity of the disability, with those with the most debilitating disabilities to receive NIS 4,500 per month.
However, this did not stop the demonstrations, as The Panthers – a group representing members of the disabled community – blocked two roadways in Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion on Sunday.
Nair Lavie, a spokesman for the group, expressed his frustration about the agreement.
He told The Jerusalem Post: “We are fighting for the minimum wage. This agreement will not work for us. Nobody invited us to speak on our behalf and we will not stop until we get minimum, we will continue to fight” The addition of this sum is to be completed by 2021 starting with the first allocation of NIS 1.3 billion on January 1, 2018.
The minimum wage in the country will also be taken into consideration when disability pensions are calculated and included in the overall budget.
Disabled people will not lose their pensions if they earn more than NIS 2,800 as they do today. Instead, the sum will be increased to NIS 4,300, enabling disabled people who can work to earn money while still receiving state support.
The government agreed that if this change proves beneficial, it will lift the salary cap even further to NIS 5,300.
Coalition chairman MK David Bitan on Friday hailed this as a meaningful victory which that not only serves those unable to work, but also children: “The agreement constitutes a real message to the disabled, it is an achievement that raises disability allowances and enables disabled people to return to earning a decent living without losing the disability pension.”
Bitan explained that “another important element is that we added a budget of NIS 150 million to disabled children.
“Nothing is more important and more just than this agreement that we’ve reached, and on the eve of Yom Kippur it becomes even more important when a population so in need of assistance will receive it after more than 15 years,” he added.
In response to the deal, Nissenkorn said: “We have made social history in the State of Israel. We have dramatically improved the economic situation of the disabled population.”
He thanked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and coalition chairman MK David Bitan and Prof. Avi Simhon on behalf of the Prime Minister and for initiating the bill, MK Ilan Gal- On, “who made every effort to reach the historic agreement on the eve of Yom Kippur. The organizations of the disabled demonstrated determination and responsibility in their struggle for social justice.”
Cobi Cohen, chairman of the Action Society of the Disabled voiced his disappointment about this agreement stating that “disabled Israelis are still going to be stuck in a cycle of poverty.”
His group was also not included in the preliminary talks leading up to the agreement and he expressed his dissatisfaction with this agreement, particularly regarding losing track of the main goal of ensuring an allowance of the current minimum wage of NIS 5000 : “The disabled are not getting the minimum wage. Not now and not in the future” Cohen adds: “We are still living in poverty and we will continue to be in poverty for the next four years and nobody is taking inflation into consideration either.”
“Why is the media spinning this to make it sound like a victory? Every year the government says: ‘we don’t have enough money, but they always end the years with a surplus with NIS 10 billion or more, November they ended the year with [above] NIS 32 billion, where is the rest of the money?” Cohen questioned.
He also said he’s concerned about inflation. “Nobody will know what happens next year, NIS 4,500 is the maximum and in 2021, nobody will know what the situation is and nothing is guaranteed.”
Angered at not being included in these talks Cohen added that “they just took ‘yes men’ and this is approach is worse than dividing us.”
Although the group’s approach is less aggressive than those groups responsible for the roadblocks, Cohen did say that they are organizing a demonstration on the 16th on Rabin Square together with several other groups.
On the contrary, members of Disabled is not a Half-Person sees this agreement as an important victory but is aware that the struggle will continue.
Disabled is not a Half-Person chairman, Hanan Tal, told the Post that the agreement is far from perfect but he and his group accept that this is the most they could have received from the government: “To get 1.5% of the Israeli budget is really a great start.”
Tal noted that since the addition of Nissenkorn in early September, “this is the fastest victory in the history of the Histadrut.”
In response to the continuing protests, Tal said he understood their frustration, and “I know the people protesting and unfortunately, they don’t really understand what is actually going on.”
“We won the battle, but the war wages on. For the moment, we should be happy about what we got and we will keep fighting for many more things: for accessibility, promoting jobs and more,” he said.
Tal added that now that the public knows about disabled people, “to create a more accepting and accessible environment, people will have more ways to execute their rights for what they want.”
He made it clear that he and the other disabled groups would not back down following this agreement. “The struggle is far from over, we will continue to fight for our original goal and we will keep fighting until we get the minimum wage,” he said.

Maariv Online and Hagay Hacohen contributed to this story.