'Raising the minimum wage is too little, too late'

75,000 people will be helped by NIS 450 monthly boost; 10,000 social workers still planning to strike over low salaries.

Money 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
Money 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
The government’s announcement Wednesday night to increase the minimum monthly wage by NIS 450 over the next year and a half was met with caution and measured disappointment Thursday, with social rights activists and even former welfare and social services minister Isaac Herzog pointing out that the plan does not go far enough to tackle the deep-rooted economic difficulties faced by many citizens.
“It’s obviously a very important social step toward improving poverty levels in this country but it comes far too late and does not include a coherent plan to combat poverty,” commented Herzog, who resigned from his post in January.
Herzog, who spent four years heading the ministry that deals with some of the country’s weakest segments of the population, pointed out that one of his steps as minister was the creation of a comprehensive plan to combat poverty, which he presented to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz during his final months in office.
“I never received a response from the prime minister or the finance minister to my plan to tackle poverty,” said Herzog, adding that while the move to increase the minimum wage was surely welcomed, it had come much too late.
“It’s too little, too late,” echoed social rights activist Tami Molad-Hayo. “While it’s a welcome step, it’s not enough just to increase wages like this. There needs to be a process in place where it goes up automatically in accordance to increasing prices.” She added, “The problem is that the cost of everything else is increasing too – health costs, education, welfare, food prices – and this increase does not address that rise.”
Molad-Hayo is part of a network of NGOs – including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Rabbis for Human Rights; Osim Shinui [Making Change]; Shatil, the social rights branch of the New Israel Fund; the Israel Center for Social Justice and the Black Panther movement – calling for economic reforms in Israel. The network plans to hold parlor meetings and demonstrations calling for the government to address poverty more directly.
“We believe that as well as increasing the minimum wage, the state needs to improve its services to the citizens,” she said, explaining “it’s not only about helping those who live below the poverty line.
There are many people in this country considered middle class who can’t make ends meet and the cost of all the services meant to be provided by the government just keep on increasing.
“Take education, for example. People have to send their children to school because it’s mandatory and it’s supposed to be free. But it isn’t and the cost keeps on increasing while the services get weaker and weaker,” pointed out Molad-Hayo.
“Of course adding NIS 450 will mean there are less poor people in terms of statistics but we want to see a real change in people’s lives and the hardships they face. We want to change the system.”
In January, the National Insurance Institute released a report showing that increasing the minimum wage by only NIS 450 a month per person would likely help some 75,000 individuals, including 33,000 children, escape the poverty cycle.
Wednesday’s announcement by the government reflects the decision made two months ago by the Histadrut labor federation and the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations to raise the minimum wage from NIS 3,850 a month to NIS 4,100 in July 2011 and a further NIS 4,300 in October 2012.
“The amounts are okay, but it’s not a step where we can say, ‘Wow‚ the government has really gone all out to help the country’s poor people,’” observed Ran Melamed, deputy director of social policy and communication for the nonprofit organization Yedid.
“It will help some people but will not really solve the problem and it certainly does not keep up with the increases in prices of basic goods.”
Meanwhile, roughly 10,000 social workers are set to strike on Sunday over the government’s failure to agree on an adequate wage increase for them.
According to the National Union of Social Workers, even though most social workers have academic degrees, the base pay for a new social worker in the public sector is no more than NIS 2,300 a month, with income support and other fiscal benefits bumping it up slightly.
After two or three years in the trade, social workers can usually expected to earn no more than NIS 6,000 a month. They have been in negotiations for more than six months with the Treasury to change the pay scales.