Students of social work protest privatization

Angry over increasing privatization of the social welfare system and frustrated at deteriorating work conditions, social work students from around the country gathered outside the Knesset Tuesday to voice concerns over their future careers. "Thousands of students are about to finish [their studies]... what future is waiting for them?" Dalia Ehud, the southern-region chair of the Union of Social Workers, told The Jerusalem Post. "They are not going out into a job market, but rather into a slave market." According to Ehud, roughly 75 percent of all social work students will be joining private companies outsourced by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services. Some 80% of services provided, such as care for the elderly, children at risk, single mothers and new immigrants, are outsourced. Privatization of the social welfare system began over a decade ago but the extent of the problems associated with privatization came to light only in recent years, according to Dr. Roni Kaufman, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev whose research unveiled much of the current trouble. Dr. Kaufman found that 80% of social workers do not receive overtime pay, even though additional work is often expected. Additionally, because many available jobs are part-time, social workers are often forced to seek a second job to earn a living. With all the unpaid overtime they are expected to complete, this means social workers are working more than ever, for less pay. Under the outsourcing system, the state covers part of an organization's budget, while the rest is generally covered by donations. Recent drops in donations, however, have led to the collapse of many NGOs, who have been having a hard time raising enough funds to properly provide services or pay their workers. According to Dr. Kaufman, there has also been a drop in professionalism and quality of service due to privatization. At the core of Tuesday's demonstration was the fact that - under the current conditions - social workers feel unable to adequately do their jobs, and those who need their services are the ones who will ultimately pay the price. Ayelet, a student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who declined to give her last name, said her biggest fear about going into the workforce was that she simply wouldn't be able to provide adequate care. "I came [to social work] because it is what interests me, and I am happy that I am going to be doing it... but [the situation] is problematic. We are going out into a lot of uncertainty," she told the Post. Another student, Jennifer Cole, who recently made aliya from Canada, is also uncertain about what awaits her when she leaves university. She said she had no idea how bad the situation was when she first arrived and is worried it will affect her job opportunities in the future. "Because I won't take jobs without rights," she said, "I might not get what I want. There's a limit... you need to work with respect and dignity." Cole added that this issue illustrated an underlying problem: "Jews outside of Israel do not realize that there are problems [here] other than terrorism and war but there are, especially in the periphery. [Social workers are] the best people. They want to take care of others, but nobody takes care of them." A statement from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services said the ministry was very strict about its adherence to proper work and wage conditions, and that they had received no complaints from social workers about their work conditions.