High Court to hear reservists' petition over benefits criteria

Petitioners protest against army's criteria for distribution of "additional remuneration" included in the Reserve Soldiers Law.

reservists train 224.88 (photo credit: IDF)
reservists train 224.88
(photo credit: IDF)
The High Court of Justice is due on Monday to hear a petition filed by an organization of reserve soldiers protesting against army criteria for the distribution of the "additional remuneration" included in the Reserve Soldiers Law that went into effect on August 1, 2008. The army decided to distribute NIS 150 million allocated for this purpose in 2008 to reserve soldiers who served in uniform for at least 23 days during that year. According to the breakdown, soldiers serving 23 to 30 days received a grant of NIS 2,270, soldiers serving 31 to 36 days received NIS 3,400 and those serving 37 days or more received NIS 4,530. But the petitioners charged that only 40,000 soldiers, or about 10 percent of all reserve soldiers, were eligible for the grant. The rest served fewer than 23 days in 2008. "The calculation used to distribute the additional remuneration creates a situation where officers receive a double grant while the rest of the reserve soldiers do not receive any remuneration at all," attorney Shai Dadosh charged on behalf of the petitioners. "Given that the reserve soldiers constitute a small percentage of the entire population of the country, why should 90% of them receive no remuneration whatsoever?" In its response to the petition, the state argued that the soldiers had made no mention of the benefits that they do receive according to the new law. According to the state's representative, attorney Gilad Shirman, these included financial compensation by the National Insurance Institute for loss of salary, even for Saturdays and other non-work days, an increase in compensation for those with low salaries (including students) and the unemployed, and benefits for all reservists serving more than 10 days a year from various government ministries - including special student and housing loans and preferential treatment in hiring for the civil service. Shirman wrote that the "additional remuneration" was, indeed, in addition to the other benefits which the overwhelming majority of reservists receive and was meant to reward specifically those soldiers who had served for especially long periods. If the money were divided among all the reservists, the remuneration would be very small and serve as a token, rather than a substantial gesture, Shirman maintained. In the meantime, the reservists have added to their complaints to the High Court. In a summary of their position filed recently, they also demanded that the army reinstate the "special remuneration" it had been giving reserve soldiers for 11 years, up until and including 2007, and that the government keep its promise according to the Reserve Soldiers Law to provide all the benefits they were supposed to. Ro'i Ron, the head of the non-profit organization Baltam for Strengthening the Reserves, said that since the petition was filed last year, the state had asked for three postponements. In the meantime, the army slashed by 90% the "special remuneration," one of the so-called "other benefits" referred to by Shirman. Furthermore, until only a week ago, the government had failed to issue the reservists with magnetic cards to prove to the government ministries their eligibility for the benefits included in the law . Moreover, a third of the ministries had still not organized themselves to offer the benefits they were supposed to. Meanwhile, the cabinet on Sunday decided to establish a ministerial committee to review the structure of the IDF Reserve Corps. The committee will be headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and will work to pass legislation regarding reservists' rights and obligations. "Reservists are a quality group of people who deserve special recognition," Barak said. "They are the backbone of Israeli society and of the entire IDF." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.