Eilat foreign workers struggle to collect pay before leaving

Chief accountant: We didn't know we had to pay them because it was not our decision to fire them.

eilat tourism 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post [file])
eilat tourism 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post [file])
Four days before they are scheduled to leave Israel, 17 foreign workers finally received their severance pay Sunday from the Eilat hotel chain where they have been working for the past 18 months. The group of foreign workers, who hail from India, China and Nepal, are just a few of the hundreds set to leave Israel this month under a new initiative by the Industry, Labor and Trade Ministry to reduce the number of workers from outside of Israel and increase job opportunities for natives in the hotel industry, especially in Eilat. "We waited from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. but they finally gave us our checks," Jacob Jose, an Indian national who has been working in Israel since 2005 and started work at the renovated Astral village hotel in July 2005, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Owned by the Eilat Inn chain, the company's chief accountant, Zion Nissan, told the Post that the tardiness in giving the foreign workers what they are due according to the country's labor laws was a simple misunderstanding. "Because it was not our decision to fire them, we were not sure if we had to pay them severance pay," he said. "As soon as we determined we had to pay them according to the law, we wrote up the checks." Eilat Municipality spokeswoman Dana Zenati said that, together with the Hotel Association, the city was in the process of reducing the number of foreign nationals working in the town's booming hotel industry, but that contrary to the ministry's initial directives had requested last week to make the transition in phases, with the first phase aimed at reducing the number from around 2,000 to 500. "Eilat is not like other tourist locations; we do not have Israeli workers to fill their place, so we have requested the number of foreign workers to be reduced more slowly," she said. Eilat Mayor Yitzhak Halevy and the Hotel Association's Eilat director, Shabtai Shay, met Thursday with Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor director-general Gavriel Maimon to discuss how to reduce the number of foreign workers without damaging the hotel industry, she said. Workers such as Jose were notified in November by their employers that they had until January 31 to leave the country. "We received a letter from the hotel, but it did not mention our severance pay, only vacation pay, our return ticket and our last month's salary," said Jose, adding that foreign workers employed by some of the other hotel chains had been paid their pension payments and severance pay without any hassle. The Hotel Association's Shay told the Post that foreign workers were entitled to "the same social benefits as Israeli workers." He said he had been in touch with the larger hotel chains to ensure that their workers were paid what they were owed before they left the country. Shevy Korzen, director of the Hot Line for Migrant Workers, blamed the government for putting the foreign workers in such a difficult position. "These workers pay high fees to come to Israel and are told they will be able to earn the money back here by working for the full five years of their visa," she said. "Suddenly, the Israeli government has a change of heart, and the workers are told to leave. No one cares about what happens to the people."