Knesset acts to protect women workers

The Knesset has approved proposed amendments to the Women's Labor Law, which might represent a first step in tackling discrimination against women at the work place. The amendments, which were presented to the Knesset on Wednesday by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor are intended to strengthen the protection of women at work and increase the growth of women returning to the labor market. "There is no doubt that a lot of work needs to be done to update the law and this could be the first move into the right direction. But at the same time, a stronger policy and message of enforcement needs to be put into place," Galia Etzion, attorney of the Na'amat women's organization, told The Jerusalem Post. The amendments, she said, were not revolutionary and did not tackle the root of the problem. "If you look at the number of discriminated women at work, you can see that the law is not working." Among the proposed amendments is the doubling of punitive damages for contravening the Women's Labor Law to NIS 134,000 from 67,000 previously. The amendments include adjustments to the current law regarding pregnancy, maternity leave, children's care and parenthood. More than 50 years ago, Israel enacted laws to protect women from being discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy and motherhood. "One of the main problems for women in the workplace today regards equal opportunity for women to return to work after maternity leave," said Etzion. According to paragraph 9 of the Equal Opportunity in Employment Law, a woman cannot be fired during the course of her pregnancy and for 45 days after maternity leave - without the approval of the supervisor of women's labor department in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. However, many employers fire pregnant women, and only afterwards apply for approval. As a result, there are many pregnant women laid off from work illegally every year. The law forbids cutting down the hours of, or dismissing, a pregnant woman, but does not protect her when it comes to, for example, promotion. "We have suggested that the current law be amended and the period during which women are not allowed to be fired after maternity leave be extended from 45 days to six months but without success," Etzion said. Separately, the bill to establish a commission to enforce equal opportunity in the workplace was approved by the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee. The bill, initiated by the Israel Women's Network and sponsored by MKs Eti Livni of Shinui and Yuli Tamir of Labor, proposes that the government-appointed commission investigate workers' complaints and sue employers who discriminate between employees or applicants for employment on the grounds of gender, personal status, status as parents, age, race, religion, nationality, national origin, and personal views.