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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Israel

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Israel, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8894528.html [accessed 19 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 7,400,000
Capital: Jerusalem

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Arrests: 10
Dismissals: 10

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The enforcement of labour law is weak and breaches of labour law are common. The right to strike is coupled with restrictions. There were several major strikes during the year. The use of court orders forcing workers back to work during a strike continued in 2011. Palestinian workers in Israel, even with permits, are sometimes deprived of their rights. Israeli minorities are sometimes subject to employment-related discrimination.

Background

The minimum wage was raised in March after extensive pressure from the Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel trade union and the signature of an agreement with the private employers and with the government. In April, a new public sector agreement was signed improving wages and auxiliary benefits.

In July, human rights groups protested against a new law prohibiting calls for a boycott of Israel which they see as part of a campaign seeking to de-legitimise the activities of Israel's civil society organisations. Protests calling for increased social justice began in July and continued until October with some 450,000 on the streets at the peak of the demonstrations.

Protest movement: In July, protests erupted over rising prices and related issues. Some 150,000 people held marches in 12 cities throughout Israel in the biggest demonstration for decades. Tent cities were erected throughout the country to in protest at the price of housing. Protests continued on a weekly basis. On 4 August, Histadrut held a rally at its headquarters under the slogan "Workers for the Struggle". The rally was attended by tens of thousands of workers' committees and Histadrut members. On 6 August, some 250,000 marched in cities throughout Israel continuing the call for increased social justice. The Prime Minister then announced a cabinet-level team to examine and propose solutions to Israel's socioeconomic problems. In August, the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security organisation, ordered its workers not to take part in the growing social protests on grounds that they are members of a State organisation. The protests continued to grow throughout September and October with a peak of some 460,000 people gathered in demonstrations throughout Israel on 3 September. The police and security response was for the most part restrained.

Trade union rights in law

Israeli workers are free to join and establish trade unions and have the right to organise. A minimum of one third of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit is needed to form a union. It is forbidden to be a member of two union federations at the same time, with the exception of Palestinians who legally work in Israel and who can also be affiliated to a Palestinian union. Migrant workers are entitled to both elect and be elected to trade union leadership bodies.

The right to strike is secured, but it is prohibited to strike over issues that are covered by a collective bargaining agreement in force, as long as the conditions of the agreement are not being violated. All political strikes are also forbidden. Furthermore, the government or authorised ministers may pass emergency measures to "defend the country", ensure public safety and guarantee the supply of "essential services". Such measures, which can remain in force for up to three months, allow the government to impose severe penalties for failure to comply. Finally, the government or a public employer can ask the labour courts to issue back-to-work orders to strikers

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Migrant workers main victims of labour law violations: The main victims of labour law violations are migrant workers. In 2008, the government approved a significant increase in the number of labour inspectors following pressure from Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel. In February, within the framework of the contract workers agreement with the government, 120 labour inspectors were added to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour.

Problems for Palestinian workers:

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics states that between 40,000 and 65,000 Palestinians work in Israel and 9,000 officially work in the Jewish settlements, despite a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements by the Palestinian government. Palestinians working in Israel often face problems crossing borders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel due to security checks. In addition, some 20,000 Palestinians work in the West Bank settlements for very low wages. Their situation is exacerbated by the fact that they are afraid to make complaints against their Israeli employers, which limits the number of workplace inspections.

Data was released in January regarding the quota arrangements for Palestinian workers in Israel by the Ministry of Defence. A Palestinian who wants to work officially in Israel must first find an employer willing to file an application on his behalf and fulfil the criteria for employment in a particular sector. Each occupation has a different set of criteria. For example, the quota for Palestinians seeking construction work in Israel is set at 19,500 and in order to receive a work permit in construction, the Palestinian applicant must be at least 35 years old and married with children. There are 3,000 positions in agriculture (including citrus fruits or strawberries picking); and 8,000 for work in orchards and groves. In these sectors a Palestinian must be at least 28 and married with children to receive a work permit.

Women domestic workers bound to employers:

60% of migrant workers coming to Israel are male and 40% are female, comprising over 80% of workers in the care-giving sector. These workers are sometimes vulnerable to situations of debt bondage. In April 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that migrant mothers should be permitted to remain in Israel up to three months after the birth of their child and that previous legislation stating that migrant workers will lose their permits should they become pregnant or give birth and thus must leave the country, infringed on the foreign worker's constitutional right to parenthood. Several new amendments to the "Entrance to Israel" law were passed in 2011 concerning migrant workers that are caregivers to patients. The law allows the relevant minister to extend the worker's work permit (which is usually time-limited) for "humanitarian reasons". The minister must appoint a committee that will advise him on this matter and the chairman of the committee should be a retired judge.

Another amendment limits the number of times a migrant worker can switch employers. An additional amendment permits the relevant minister to restrict, after considering the worker's rights, the geographical area in Israel in which the worker will be allowed to work.

If a foreign worker is not employed in the care giving sector for 90 days, that worker can be deported. However, the worker is entitled to a hearing before the decision is accepted.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that an earlier arrangement that forbade switching employers should be repealed as it constitutes "a modern form of slavery." This ruling was accepted and new amendments mentioned above that coincide with the spirit of the Supreme Court's ruling were legislated.

Migrant workers abused and exploited:

According to the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority, in 2011 there were approximately 184,000 were foreign workers, of whom about 109,400 were undocumented (including working tourists who do have a labour permit). Maltreatment is prevalent, especially in the agriculture sector. Alongside Eastern European and Asian workers are tens of thousands of Palestinians who work for Israeli employers as documented or undocumented migrants. Racial tensions between immigrants and refugees and Israelis have been rising.

There are 24,000 mainly Thai migrant workers employed in the agricultural industry. They travel to Israel through private agencies to which each worker pays an average of USD 9, 000. Exploitation is common with the regular withholding of salaries, long working hours with false or non-existent payslips and threats of deportation to workers who try to complain. On 12 January, after an undercover investigation, 12 employees of an Ashkelon-based recruitment agency were arrested on suspicion of defrauding Thai agricultural workers and forcing them to work many hours to meet their illegal debts to the agency. Authorities suspect that the agency forced Thai workers to pay tens of thousands of shekels to work in Israel, and ran what was in effect a slave labour market when the workers could not pay off their illegal debts. The law permits recruitment agencies to take a maximum of 3,400 shekels from each foreign worker, but police suspect the debts incurred by the agency reached sums of USD 10,000 per worker.

Violations

Attempts to organise rebuffed:

Several attempts by workers in different sectors to organise and form a union were rejected by their employers leading to lawsuits by Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel. In August, Histadrut HaOvdim HaLeumit (The National Histadrut) announced its plans to sue the Steimatzky bookstore chain for improper and illegal interference in employees' efforts to unionise. Earlier management had accused the union of forging union membership forms and using company email accounts during the organising process. However, the union claims that workers had complained of measures by management to derail organising.

On 20 November, about 20 technicians of "HOT Telecom" were summoned to hearings prior to being dismissed. This was following a demonstration they held that morning in front of the company's head offices. The protest came about after management had refused to recognise a workers' committee that had been formed by about 700 technicians from the company. Management had also tried to work with small groups of workers in order to avoid negotiating with the committee. Previously, the workers had formed the committee and joined Histadrut in reaction to recent company outsourcing and unilateral changes in contracts and working hours. The union then tried to negotiate a collective agreement over employment conditions. However, management announced that it did not recognise the organising and at the same time began to summon workers and get them to sign a form cancelling their Histadrut membership. Histadrut submitted a lawsuit in December to the Labour Court against the management for violating labour law.

In 2011, Histadrut submitted several cases to the labour courts against the Machsani Hashmal chain. The first was in January concerning the humiliation of and threats against workers who had attempted to organise at the company. Despite this legal initiative, management continued to try to intimidate workers and threaten organisers. Histadrut then filed a second case against the management of the parent company, Yaki Vadmeni, CEO of Electra Consumer Products, the umbrella company of the Machsani Hashmal chain, who had sent a letter to workers stating that their membership of Histadrut was against the law. Earlier, the Deputy General Manager of Marketing had telephoned the chair of the Workers' Action Committee and threatened him against continuing with an ongoing organising initiative.

Diplomatic staff and strikebreaking: Throughout most of 2010, diplomatic staff organised by the Foreign Ministry's workers' committee undertook strike action and go-slows. The government responded by asking security bureau officials (Mossad) to undertake some of the work usually done by the diplomatic and foreign office staff, thus engaging in union busting. Diplomats state that they are paid far less than security officials yet do similar work. In January a further strike was held and Israeli ambassadors abroad were instructed to cut off all contact with foreign ministries, prime minister's offices and president's offices in the countries in which they serve, until further notice. On 10 January, the Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel, representing the Foreign Ministry workers' committee, announced an end to the strike after reaching an agreement with the Finance Ministry and the Foreign Ministry administration regarding new salary conditions.

Good news for striking social workers: In March, a three week strike by social workers over pay scales and wages ended after the Social Workers' Union accepted the deal agreed upon by representatives of Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel and the Finance Ministry 12 weeks previously with only minor changes. It is noteworthy to mention that the Histadrut did not include these workers with other public sector workers who are covered by the aforementioned public sector agreement in order to provide them with a substantial wage increase and auxiliary benefits.

Attempts to fire the Chair of the Bus Drivers Union: Attempts by the Ashdod Bus company, managed by Connex Transportation Israel and a franchise of Veolia Israel to sack the chair of the Workers' Action Committee were halted when Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel obtained an injunction from the Labour Courts in March 2011. The union also found there had been extensive verbal and written threats against workers and direct harassment of union organisers.

Railway union members detained and strike declared 'illegal':

Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel obtained an injunction announcing a labour dispute involving Israel Railways following the Transportation Minister's threat to close down the company if it did not implement comprehensive safety reforms. A half-day rail strike ended after members of the rail workers' union were released from detention after half a day. The rail workers trade union announced the strike without prior notice after the arrest of 10 union members during a demonstration outside the home of the new chair of Israel Railways on 11 May.

On 16 May, the Tel Aviv Labor Court ruled that Israel Railways workers were forbidden to go on strike before 1 July. The court ordered the sides to hold negotiations over the next two weeks. Despite various negotiations, the dispute continued and in September the Tel Aviv District Labour Court ruled a further strike by Israel Railways (IR) workers was politically-motivated, and consequently illegal. The court ruled that workers must return to work and that the union must enter into renewed negotiations. Sanctions were imposed after talks between labour and management on planned structural reforms broke down. Nine workers were later suspended from employment after they stopped the laying of new track in late September.

Government seeks injunction against doctor's strike: Doctors held several protests and strike actions throughout the year. In June, the Tel Aviv District Labour Court rejected a petition by the government to issue an injunction banning labour sanctions by doctors. A compromise agreement was then reached on further talks but negotiations stalled during the next few months. In August, an agreement was finally signed between the Finance Ministry and the Doctors' Labour Federation, ending the negotiations that dragged on since September 2010. The deal, valid for nine years, includes a 49% average salary increase for hospital doctors, who will now clock in and out, and the addition of 1,000 doctors at public hospitals. However young resident doctors tendered mass resignations in late August in a move rendered illegal by the national labour court. After this decision, a one day hunger strike was held on 4-5 September. On 7 December, the struggle of the young resident doctors ended with the signing of an agreement, which determined improved benefits and a promise to review the collective agreement in three years.

Port worker strike suspended by labour court: In May, a strike over bonus coupons at the Ashdod Port was suspended after the national labour court ordered the workers not to take any industrial action until 1 June at least. Manufacturers, importers and exporters had complained to the court that the work slowdown by port workers at Ashdod, coupled with an overload at a nearby port was costing them NIS 2 billion.

Retaliation against Jerusalem Light Rail driver's union members: Some 80 drivers at the Jerusalem light railway operated by Connex, joined Histadrut – General Federation of Labour in Israel in order to improve on-going working conditions and elected a workers' committee. Management agreed to negotiate a collective agreement but it simultaneously began to take disciplinary action against the workers. A number of them received a pre-dismissal warning. At the same time, the company also reduced certain employee benefits such as transportation home after work. Likewise, management worsened the conditions of employment. In May, Histadrut announced a formal dispute with the company citing improper procedures for employee layoffs and worsening of terms of employment for union members. In July, Histadrut filed a claim against Connex and the senior management of the company (CEO, COO, Director of Training and the Human Resources Manager) for restrictions on the right to freedom of association and harassment of union members.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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