Polgat workers seek new future at employment fair

"After so many years of hard work I need some time for myself, for my soul. I want to rest, to study something."

polgat worker 88 (photo credit: Shelly Paz)
polgat worker 88
(photo credit: Shelly Paz)
Marsel Tayeb, 55, a mother of five from Kiryat Gat who has been working at the Polgat Textiles factory for over 30 years, told her colleagues at the end of an employment fair on Tuesday that she had not submitted her resume to any of the companies. "After so many years of hard work I need some time for myself, for my soul. I want to rest, to study something," Tayeb told The Jerusalem Post. "Here, I took this brochure," she said, pointing at the pamphlet in her hands. "I want to study designing and production of events." Tayeb is an exceptional example in this crowd of veteran employees. Most stood in the yard of the Polgat factory in Kiryat Gat, handing over resume someone else wrote for them to potential employers and manpower agencies. Tayeb may well be able to afford the self-search, as mother of "A Star is Born" star singer Ninet Tayeb. But unlike Tayeb, Margalit Katz, 56, a divorced mother of two from Ashkelon, who has been working in Polgat for 40 years, since ninth grade, submitted her resume to any company that was willing to accept it. She tearfully recalled how this place and the people in it became her family. "We used to work twelve hours a day and than go to one of the workers' private celebrations. We vacationed together and cried together - it's so sad to see this place closing down." Katz said that she will take any job that she can do while sitting. "Not all Polgat ex-workers will find jobs. Some of them are too old and some want to use their right for unemployment pension. I don't need a day of rest, I would like to find a sitting-job for the day after this place is closed," Katz said. Polgat Textiles, the oldest factory in Kiryat Gat (est. 1961) and one of the last textile companies to operate in Israel, was a manufacturer of worsted wool fabrics. The management of the company announced the factory closure on April 10, blaming a weakening dollar, strong competition from the Far East and the rise in energy and wool prices. Thirty-five private companies and manpower companies arrived Tuesday morning at the Polgat factory in Kiryat Gat's industrial area to look for new employees and to lend a helping hand to at least some of the 300 workers whose jobs will be terminated at the end of the month. The idea to assist the workers in finding new sources of income while they are still on the payroll was Malka Gershon's, the director of Kiryat Gat's employment bureau. Gershon contacted the Israeli Employment Service and Polgat management, and they contacted the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, together arranging to attract more than 30 companies to the job fair. "We are preparing to meet each one of the workers in our offices to soften their landing," Gershon said. "The entire staff of Kiryat Gat's employment bureau will look into every individual case, offering alternative positions, professional courses, career retraining, self-enrichment courses and training that will teach them how to manage their money more efficiently," she added. But all the good intentions in the world may not be enough. Many of the workers will not find a new place of work due to their advanced age, their limited education and experience, their health limitations or their young children at home who need to be cared for. At the same time, some of them simply prefer to implement their entitlement to six months of unemployment benefits. Galit Meirovitch, human resources coordinator at the Bonjour factory in Kiryat Gat, a producer of frozen pastries, said it was difficult to tempt the employees of Polgat to come to work for Bonjour. "We are looking to recruit production workers at a minimum wage of NIS 19.95 per hour. We can't compete with the men's salaries here, some of whom accumulated seniority and receive NIS 30-35 per hour. Other recruiters were looking for very specific jobs, like trained machinists, or for shift workers, out of the question for older workers and those with families. Shimon Badani, 59, a textile engineer from Beersheba who has been working for Polgat for the past 21 years said he could not find a company that would hire him. "What company would take a man my age?" he asked with a bitter smile. "I have signed up in some of the manpower companies, but textile is an endangered industry in Israel." When Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai arrived at the fair, the workers gathered around him and asked for his help in supporting the bill to change the age of retirement back to 60 for women and 65 for men. In addition, they asked Yishai to assist them in making sure all workers receive their compensations from the National Insurance Institute despite the bureaucratic process the Polgat factory must go through in order to be recognized as a bankrupt company. "It is very nice that you try to help us to find new jobs, but many of us are too old and we can't wait three to six months to get our money," Moris Roash, who has been working for 31 years in Polgat, told Yishai.