Sweet and sour: Foreign workers as nursing aides

The vast majority of foreign caregivers are warm and wonderful people – and those of us in need of their help feel we could not get along without them.

Caregiver (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Caregiver (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A few months ago an elderly gentleman walked into the Citizens Advice Bureau (Shil) in Jerusalem waving a sheet of paper.
His mother had recently died, and the nursing aide agency that had supplied her caregiver had instructed him to pay the worker NIS 45,000 in severance pay. He was aghast – and this was only his share of the payment: the National Insurance Institute was paying her a separate sum.
After checking the facts, the Shil volunteer who listened to his outraged complaint had no choice but to inform him that this, indeed, was the amount of money he owed the worker.
According to Idit Leibowitz, coordinator for Kav LaOved (The Worker’s Hotline), 60,000 foreign caregivers are currently employed in Israel, 80 percent of whom are female. About 40% are natives of the Philippines, another 45% come from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and the rest are from Eastern European countries.
The vast majority of foreign caregivers are warm and wonderful people – and those of us in need of their help feel we could not get along without them. Unfortunately, we are rarely prepared for the amount of money we will be required to pay them when their services are no longer needed.
Here is everything I was able to learn about hiring (and firing) a foreign caregiver – including some gems from my own sweet and sour experience. I asked Maya Guriel, director of the Melabev Nursing Aide Service with 23 years of experience in the field, for information on the process.
To receive a permit to employ a foreign worker as a caregiver, you need to be a man who has turned 67, a woman 62 and older, a child with disabilities or adult needing 24-hour-a-day care, she explained. Recipients of stipends under the Nursing Aide Law (the subject of my next column), who have already been evaluated by the National Insurance Institute as requiring 24-hour care, are automatically eligible. So are oncology patients, whose diagnosis and prognosis are reviewed every six months.
Others in need of round-the-clock care but who do not receive a stipend, may employ a foreign caregiver after they undergo an evaluation and are approved by the NII. The exception: Adults 85 and over need only a detailed report written by a geriatric or other specialist and, if they can get it, a social worker’s report in order to present a request to the immigration authority and to receive a permit. Note: When one half of a couple with a caregiver dies, that worker may remain with the spouse if he or she gets a permit to do so. Again, if the remaining spouse is 85 or older, there is no need for a home-visit evaluation.
Guriel stresses that your first step, always, is to find a first-class manpower agency specializing in foreign caregivers. Agency reps often approach you while you are in the hospital or a rehabilitation center. Or ask for a recommendation from friends, relatives, neighbors, the community center, etc.
You need an agency that will do all the running around for you, give you complete information, help you fill in forms and generally make you feel they know what they are doing. Guriel emphasizes that agencies have an interest in helping you acquire a foreign caregiver, and they know how to do it. You should never have to deal directly with a government office; the agency should be doing this for you. If they are not – find another agency. In fact, try as many as you like.
When investigating the agency, find out if they also have Israeli workers (you might need one when your caregiver is on vacation) and if they offer other services.
Melabev, for example, runs an outstanding day-care center for seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
You don’t pay the agency anything during the entire process, until you hire one of their caregivers or bring a caregiver to the agency and make arrangements for him or her to be under its wing. What you do have to pay are several hundred shekels each to the government for the NII evaluation (if necessary), and for the permit itself.
When interviewing a worker, get the names of all former employers and even if he or she seems really sweet, knowledgeable and capable, call them all. You may be surprised at what you learn.
In my case, the immigration services checking a potential caregiver’s background warned me that she changed employment unusually frequently – but I stupidly paid no attention, didn’t even check her references, and ended up very, very sorry.
Having decided on a caregiver, you will be signing an agreement at the agency. Go over it carefully and, suggests Kav LaOved’s Leibowitz, show it to someone who specializes in labor law if you can. Make sure the caregiver signs it as well. From then on, write down everything you pay from then on, in detail, and have the caregiver sign that it was received (including vacation pay, holiday pay, etc.) Write in a language the caregiver 14 METRO | FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2016 CONSUMING INTEREST Sweet and sour: Foreign workers as nursing aides (TNS) www.jpost.com | METRO 15 can read, so he cannot later claim that he didn’t know what he signed. Do not neglect this important step.
Either inform the NII that you are now employing a caregiver in your home, or make sure the agency does this for you. Afterwards, you will begin getting booklets for payment. You need to pay the NII a total of 2% of their monthly salary or the minimum salary – whichever is higher – every three months.
Foreign workers (sometimes called migrant workers) have the same rights as waged Israeli workers. Your agency will know these rights, which include weekly breaks, a weekly allowance (which is part of the salary), annual vacations, health insurance and a monthly pension starting on the seventh month but paid at the end of service (6% of wages). Other entitlements include sick leave, and days off or payment for nine of their national holidays.
After each full year of employment you also pay an annual fee, called havra’a. Originally intended to provide workers with money for convalescence, it is now just a payment benefit. Your agency should be happy to work out the vacation, recreation and holiday fees for you at the end of each year.
Be careful of special arrangements that you make with your caregiver concerning holidays and vacations: Get them in writing and make sure they are legal (ask at the agency or, better yet, consult with a labor rights professional).
The law trumps any arrangement you might make.
When there is no more need for the caregiver, or if you fire him or her (even with good reason) you will have to pay that year’s vacation and holidays as well as severance pay (one month’s salary for each year of employment), the pension you should have been putting aside each month and a convalescence fee for the past year. The fees are worked out according to the minimum monthly salary or the actual salary – whichever is higher – at the time he or she is released.
All caregivers must be given a notice period – one day a month for the first six months, 1.5 days for seven and so on, and one full month’s notice after a year when he or she is no longer wanted or needed. You must pay that notice whether or not he or she works during that time.
Of course, if the caregiver quits, you pay only if you are grateful for the services although he or she is eligible for the pension.
Your agency should provide you with a list detailing the amount you need to pay your worker at the end of service. If there is a dispute, it may be concerning the time that the caregiver helped you out before officially becoming your worker. So know that once work has begun – whether officially or not – that time has to be taken into account.
All of this explains why the gentleman who appeared in the Shil office received such a high bill – and which would have been even higher had he not been getting stipends from the National Insurance Institute for his mother’s care: the NII pays its portion of the severance fee, pension and notice once employment is terminated.
In a wage dispute, caregivers usually head for Kav LaOved, which will recalculate the termination fee and help with any legal matters. Their figures depend only on the information that they have been told by the caregiver, therefore it is crucial that you as employer sit down with the agency, or speak with the workers’ hotline, preferably together with your caregiver. Employers have an additional option: The private company Kav Lama’asik (Employers’ Hotline) that – for a price – will work out the amount your former caregiver deserves.
I know that this sounds complicated and, even, scary (also expensive). But if you are working with a good agency, you will know exactly what your obligations are, what the caregiver’s rights are and how to proceed.
Besides, although your final sum can really hit you where it hurts, this is still a cheaper (and I believe better) option than institutional care.
Contact the writer for comments or updates: consumerjpost@gmail.com