Rehovot hi-tech workforce feels pain of recession

"I'm like a soldier, watching my comrades go down around me."

unemployment 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
unemployment 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Five thousand employees of hi-tech firms in Israel have lost their jobs since the outbreak of the global financial crisis, and workers at Rehovot's sprawling Science Park, home to dozens of hi-tech and biopharmaceutical firms, are feeling the heat. Ilia L., an employee of a hi-tech firm, said 10 percent of his company's employees had been laid off, and friends from other companies have also lost their jobs recently. "People I used to travel with on the train are no longer employed. It's like being a soldier in a war, watching your comrades go down around you," he said. "We see on the TV news and read in the newspapers about the closure of companies like Comverse," Ilia added, referring to the international computer and telecommunications corporation which is laying off hundreds of workers from its Israeli branch. Despite the bad news, Ilia says he has little doubt that Israel's hi-tech industry will pull through. "This is not the oil industry. Hi-tech is Israel's growth industry which utilizes our main national asset, our brains," he said. "I have heard of a number of new ideas being circulated aimed at fostering growth again," he added. Some hi-tech employees are frustrated by the fact that layoffs have come at branches of American-based international corporations, even though the Israeli teams have been performing strongly. "Our branch has increased sales and experienced no losses. But we are a global firm, and decisions are taken abroad," said Udi, who works at a Rehovot-based microprocessor firm that has cut NIS 400 from every employee's salary. "This was implemented as an alternative to laying people off," he explained. "It's better to take a little from everyone than have someone lose their job." Udi said he would feel the effect of the salary cut, but that it would not significantly lower his quality of life. "Of course every loss of a hundred shekels hurts, but things will be fine," he said. Alex Cogan, also a hi-tech employee in Rehovot, said his company had recently called all of its workers together to discuss the global economic crisis. "We've had talks about the situation, but our company is safe," he said. "At this stage, we're not being affected." One woman, who preferred not to be named, manages a business that provides a range of services to hi-tech firms in Rehovot and other hi-tech hubs around the country. "We have seen many start-ups go under," she said. "Some of the places I go into in Rehovot or Herzliya are either closing or are facing the threat of closure. "This has a knock-on effect on businesses like mine, which depend on the hi-tech industry," the woman said. "When US and Israeli investors can no longer afford to pour capital into start-ups, this directly affects service providers like ourselves. "We all eat from the same plate," she said. "This includes restaurants situated around the companies that were once frequented by hi-tech employees. Now, instead of spending 40 to 50 shekels on a lunch subsidized by their employers, the workers will go and have a cheaper sandwich," the woman added. "Auto leasers are feeling the pressure too. Everyone is suffering."