Reform to protect caregivers' rights, but raise costs of services

A major reform of the oversight system for foreign caregivers will go into effect in mid-July, officials from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Commerce told the Knesset's Committee on Foreign Workers Tuesday morning. Rights groups representing the elderly and the disabled expressed support for the new responsibilities placed on manpower companies providing the foreign caregivers, but the reform was also criticized for the additional expense it will place on those hiring their assistance. According to Efraim Cohen, head of the ministry's Foreign Workers Authority, told the MKs there were currently 43,000 legally registered foreign caregivers in Israel. Part of the coming reform, he said, was designed to make the system more efficient in protecting caregivers' rights in light of the enormous number of cases currently open. The reform had been scheduled to take effect on July 1, but would be delayed for two or three weeks, Cohen said. The new system will put more responsibility in the hands of the companies that recruit and provide the workers. Companies wishing to win a government license to deal in foreign workers will be required to work exclusively in that field and to employ a general manager with at least three years' experience managing more than 50 workers. The companies will also be required to employ a social worker who will make sure that the match between patient and caregiver is a good one; firms will be required to make an in-house visit to check compatibility within a month of placement, and then to have their social workers carry out similar visits once every three months. In the event of incompatibility, or in cases in which the caregiver simply "disappears," the companies will be responsible for providing the patient with an alternate caregiver. In addition, both the employer and the employee must be registered with the same company, and companies can only receive permission to import new workers if they have exhausted the reserve of foreign caregivers available in Israel. All companies will be required to register their workers in a national database to enable increased oversight. The new obligations placed on the companies come with a price tag. The reform allows them to charge up to NIS 70 per month for services provided, as well as a one-time NIS 2,000 fee at the start of the foreign worker's employment. The reform also extends increased protections to caregivers, including a provision forbidding the companies from taking money from would-be employees beyond the sum proscribed by the new law. In addition, the companies will be legally responsible for finding employment for the workers. MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), chairman of the Foreign Workers Committee, described the law as "an important reform that is meant to take into consideration the needs of both the worker and the employer," but advocates for the disabled and elderly were less enthusiastic, particularly regarding the additional payments. "I would like to congratulate the reform, because it does contain certain changes that we have been lacking for a long time," said disabled rights activist Nomi Morabiya. "But don't judge us by our silence. We don't care how much these manpower companies earn. And they do earn money. Nobody establishes such a company for the purpose of charity. And that's why I beg of you to find a way to remove the monthly payment of NIS 70, including the possibility of compensating us for it as part of our monthly subsidy."