Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Israel

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Israel, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 22 October 2017]
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: 6,900,000
Capital: Jerusalem
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

There was a high number of strikes during the year, reflecting growing social tensions and worsening working conditions. Some restrictions on migrant workers' trade union rights remain in place. Palestinian workers who enter the country illegally to search for work are often maltreated.

Trade union rights in law

Israeli workers are free to join and establish trade unions and have the right to organise and bargain collectively.

A law specifically prohibits anti-union discrimination.

Discrimination against Palestinian workers: Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who work in Israel have the right to organise their own unions in Israel or to join Israeli trade unions. However, the Palestinian members of Histadrut may not elect, or be elected to, its leadership bodies.

Palestinian workers are entitled to protection under Israeli collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the General Federation of Labour in Israel, Histadrut, in exchange for paying 0.80 per cent of their wages to Histadrut (half of which the federation remits to the bank account of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) ). Since the Intifada, it has been almost impossible to maintain links between Histadrut and the PGFTU.

All nonresident workers are able to establish employees' organisations that will be recognised by the Israeli regional and national labour courts under the terms of the Collective Agreement Law. Only recognised representative employees' organisations are entitled to engage in collective bargaining.

Restriction on right to strike: Strikes are permitted, but unions must give 15 days' advance notice unless otherwise specified in the collective bargaining agreement. Strike leaders are protected by law.

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. The government or the public employer can ask the labour courts to issue back-to-work orders to strikers.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: High military spending has resulted in drastic cutbacks in Israel's social budgets in recent years, increasing poverty, including amongst workers. Trade unions face many challenges.

There was a general strike in March by public sector workers to protest at the nonpayment for many months of 5,000 public sector workers and to demand a 10.4% wage increase. The strike went ahead on 21 March, crippling the country's airports, seaports, railways, government offices and other services.

This was followed by several strikes by public sector workers in the summer and a second general strike for higher salaries in July. A third general strike was averted after government-union negotiations. An eight-week teachers' strike in the autumn was settled in December after successful negotiations for higher salaries.

Most workers can exercise their union rights freely, though the labour courts often issue back-to-work orders in various sectors. Changing forms of employment are also undermining the strength and position of the trade union movement.

Very poor respect of labour law: According to a 2006 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, 92 per cent of employers breach the labour law. The main victims are migrant workers and women. This decline is said to be linked to the increase in black labour and in part-time, temporary and freelance employment. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has just 200 inspectors charged with monitoring the application of labour legislation, and many are only employed on a part-time basis. Just 18 of these inspectors are available for helping workers defend their rights vis-à-vis their employers.

Problems for Palestinian workers: Palestinian workers in Israel face serious daily problems with crossing borders between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In addition to the travelling time involved, they are sometimes subjected, for security reasons, to harassment and humiliation by border guards. A policy of reducing the number of entrances into Israel has forced large numbers of workers into overcrowded passages, causing injuries and even deaths.

Israel has sharply reduced the number of Palestinian labourers allowed into the country, but with unemployment running at 25% in the West Bank, people are desperate to cross the border illegally to find work. There are reports that those caught can be severely beaten by police and held for hours without food and water.

Migrant workers: Migrant workers, who make up around 7 per cent of the working population, are increasingly coming from Asia. Many of them live alone. 50,000 Filipinas are said to be working as home helps, taking care of elderly and disabled people. Many migrants are employed in the country's agricultural sector, where they are paid below the minimum wage and live in fear of being deported if they complain, as they rely on individual people or companies to provide their visas.

Many migrant workers are mistreated, and their employers threaten them with deportation to deny them their basic rights. Trade union organisers are systematically expelled from the country.

Histadrut has urged Israeli employers to grant migrant workers the same social and employment rights as their Israeli counterparts, and the Israeli Labour Court has agreed that that principle should be applied. However, in practice abuse is still common.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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