Rights groups accuse state of ignoring High Court ruling on 'chaining' foreign workers

Despite a High Court ruling in March 2006 abolishing the "chaining" of foreign workers to their employers, half of the 200 workers currently awaiting deportation are being expelled because they left their original employer and failed to find a new one, attorney Oded Feller told the court on Monday. Feller, who represents the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and five other human and social rights organizations, petitioned the court to declare the state in contempt of court for failing to uphold the ruling. According to the "chaining" arrangement, a foreigner who is given a work permit to enter Israel must be assigned in advance to a specific employer and must remain in his employ throughout the five-year period that his permit is valid. If he leaves his employer, his work permit is automatically revoked and he becomes an illegal alien and must be expelled. A panel of three High Court justices including Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, Deputy Supreme Court President Mishael Cheshin and Justice Edmond Levy ruled in 2006 that the "chaining" arrangement must be replaced by a new arrangement within six months. However, Feller charged that two-and-a-half years after the ruling was handed down, the state had still not implemented it. In the meantime, it had given migrant workers who leave their employers 90 days to find a new one. But Feller said this was not a new arrangement, and that prior to the court's ruling, migrant workers had been given 30 days to find a new employer and that the period could be extended by another 60 days. According to the state's representative, attorney Michal Tzuk, the state was preparing a new arrangement whereby migrant workers looking for a new employer would apply to private manpower companies, which would find employers for them and take responsibility for making certain the workers received all their rights and privileges. It hopes to introduce this procedure in the care-giving sector in January. The new arrangement also calls for establishing a database of all the foreign workers currently in Israel with permits for the care-giving sector, and all those individuals seeking caregivers. This would prevent the manpower companies from continually asking to bring in more foreign workers (who pays the company a fee for the permit) when it was clear that there were foreign workers with permits already here. But Feller said he was skeptical that the new arrangement would be put in place by January, and that it only applied to the care-giver sector and not to other sectors such as agriculture, services and industry. Tzuk said the state wanted to see how the new arrangement worked in the care-giving sector before applying it to the agriculture sector. The panel of justices, headed by Levy, said it would hand down its decision on the petition soon.