Eilat foreign workers fight hotel industry for withheld benefits

Migrants, mostly from India, said Tuesday that they still had not received a single shekel of the monies owing to them.

sinai beach 88 (photo credit: )
sinai beach 88
(photo credit: )
Nearly a week after the Beersheba Labor Court ordered a large hotel chain to pay its departing foreign workers the required severance package, the 12 migrants, mostly from India, said Tuesday that they still had not received a single shekel of the monies owing to them. "I had a flight booked for January 26 and had to cancel it because the hotel has still not paid me the money they owe me," Denis Fereirs, who has been working for the Sheraton Hotel chain for nearly three years, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from the southern resort town. "I have already moved out of my apartment and am living with friends. They keep promising to pay the money but so far there is nothing." Ariela Mader, the hotel's spokeswoman, said the sum of $305,000 was transferred to the Fereirs' lawyer Kamel Abou-Kaoud on Monday, but Fereirs said he still had no confirmation that the money was in. "I can't continue like this for much longer," said Fereirs. "Soon I will be living here illegally." Fereirs and his 12 workmates had their employment terminated just over a month ago in accordance with a new governmental policy to massively reduce the number of foreign workers in the hotel industry and thus create more job opportunities for Israelis. The majority of foreigners working in Eilat hotels were told in early December that they had to leave the country by January 31. "In general, all labor laws that apply to Israeli workers apply to foreign workers as well. The position of our office is that hoteliers must provide the dismissed workers with severance pay as set out by law," said a spokeswoman for the Labor, Trade and Industry Ministry. "Nonetheless, some employers may claim that they are not obligated to provide workers with severance pay since the dismissal of the workers was a result of the new government policy." She added that the ministry was currently investigating cases of hoteliers withholding payment to the foreign workers, but she reiterated that, "because non-payment of severance pay is not a criminal offence, questions regarding severance pay would ultimately have to be decided in the labor courts." The Hotels Association echoed the ministry's response and Shabtai Shai, director of the association's southern region, said requests had been made to all the hotels to pay their workers accordingly. However, Fereirs' is not the only group of migrant workers forced to go head to head with large hotel chains in order to obtain social and financial benefits. In the last two weeks alone, former workers from the Eilat In hotel chain, the Fattal Hotel group and the Siesta hotel have also reported not receiving their compensation. And Fereirs' lawyer Abou-Kaoud said Tuesday that he had already filed another petition to the same Beersheba court on behalf of six more workers. "I have seen this happen a lot," said the lawyer, who was appointed to represent the workers by Kav L'oved (Workers Hot line), a non-profit group that advocates the rights of foreign workers in Israel. According to Kav L'oved, over the last month, more than 30 workers have approached the organization asking for assistance in receiving their pay. While the situation in Eilat is unique because of the large number of workers involved, the organization's legal advisor Yuval Livnat said the problem is symptomatic of the government's policies towards the rights of foreign workers in general. "Workers who lose their jobs in Israel are only given a few days by the Interior Ministry to get their affairs in order before their visas run out. Either they must leave the country and forgo their social benefits or face being arrested by immigration police," said Livnat, who is preparing to file a high court petition aimed at permanently extending foreign worker's visas for 60 days after they are fired by their employer. "The situation is absurd. Some of these workers have been here for five years and are given only a few days to sort themselves out," he continued. This does not give them enough time to legally take on employers who refuse to pay severance and many of the workers leave without their money. "No employer wants to pay severance," Livnat said. "The government has to force them to pay but instead they are party to this criminal activity." "Dismissed foreign hotel workers may receive permission from the Interior Ministry to remain in the country for a period of up to two months on a tourist visa, and if they find work during that period with an employer who holds a permit to employ a foreign caregiver, they will be allowed to register for work in that field. If they do not find work within two months they will be asked to leave the country," responded the Labor, Trade and Industry Ministry spokeswoman. And the Interior Ministry's director of the foreign worker's department, Yossi Edelstein, confirmed that the ministry had already granted foreign workers in Eilat with an extra month to sort out their financial situations. "This is good news for those who know about it," commented Livnat. "But really there needs to be a firm policy on this and not just an exception for special cases. All workers should be given 60 days after finishing work to sort out their affairs and if they need longer they should be able to apply for it."