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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Israel

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Israel, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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: 7,200,000
Capital: Jerusalem
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Palestinian workers in Israel, even with permits, are often subject to abuse, illegal detentions and deportations while Israeli Arabs are subject to extensive employment-related discrimination. Most employers breach the labour law, and the right to strike is coupled with restrictions. There were still many major strikes during the year, but strikers were retaliated against.


Israeli workers are free to join and establish trade unions and have the right to organise. However, a minimum of one third of the employees in a workplace 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. 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.


Background: Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, became prime minister in February 2009, raising fears that the peace process would falter. The peace process remains alive although surrounded by pessimism from both sides. On 31 May Israeli naval forces surrounded ships sailing to bring humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip and opened fire on passengers, killing at least nine while wounding dozens more. The attack led to widespread condemnation and increased political tensions in the region. Israel eventually eased its Gaza blockade following pressure from the international community.

Very poor respect of labour law: According to a 2006 report, 92% of employers breach the labour law. The main victims are migrant workers and women. In February 2008, the government approved a significant increase in the number of labour supervisors.

Problems for Palestinian workers: The ILO reports that there are 60,000 Palestinians working legally and illegally in Israel. These workers face serious daily problems with crossing borders between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and are sometimes harassed and humiliated by border guards. In addition, some 20,000 Palestinians work in the West Bank for very low wages. The situation of these workers is exacerbated by the fact that they are afraid to make complaints against the Israeli employers, which results in limited inspection of workplaces.

Jordanian labour law has been applied to the territories since 1965, but in October 2007 the High Court of Israel ruled that Palestinians working for Israeli employers in the West Bank should be governed by Israeli, rather than Jordanian, labour law.

Migrant workers abused and exploited: According to local statistics Israel has some 255,000 foreign workers, of which about 125,000 are illegal. Maltreatment is prevalent, especially in the agriculture sector where poor working and living conditions, long working hours, sub-minimum wages and other forms of exploitation are common. 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, and attacks on immigrants have been increasing.

Women represent the overwhelming majority of migrant workers coming to Israel, comprising over 80% of workers in the care-giving sector. These workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and situations of debt bondage, and sexual exploitation of female migrant workers is widespread. Female migrant care workers are also excluded from the legal protection of the Ombudsman on the rights of migrant workers except in cases of violence, trafficking or slavery.

In 2006 the High Court decided that the state's policy of binding foreign workers to their employers infringed on basic rights and must be repealed. However, in practice the policy still exists: foreign workers who leave their work immediately become illegal residents who can be deported.

In November 2010 some 30 Thai workers brought to Israel via the manpower agency Interman and "Farmer's Aid" complained to their employer about working conditions and sent a fax to a migrant NGO. The employer reportedly discovered the fax and took away the worker who had sent the fax. The other workers were unable to contact him until the next day when he was found back in Thailand having been deported that night. The workers had complained of long working hours, low wages, few vacation days and very poor living conditions.

Police stops buses of protestors: In April 2010 Arab authority heads protested against what they claim were discriminatory budget cuts. Organisers of the protest reported that the protest was attended by hundreds of municipality employees and authority heads but that two buses full of protestors were stopped by police from attending. The Union of Local Authorities claimed that the government failed to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars of their budget, despite the fact that they had met all the standards set by the state. There were also complaints about wage arrears of up to six months. The Finance Ministry rejected the claims.

Workers harassed when trying to organise: In August workers at the Haredi customer service hotline in Jerusalem claimed that their employer, Partner Communications, was harassing them because of their attempts to organise a union. One worker reportedly stated workers were being pressed not to join.

Anti-union sentiment at Schechter Institute: The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies faculty workers staged a week-long strike in November to protest salary cutbacks. The leaders of the workers' committee at Schechter said management tried to halt the workers' attempt to unionise by mocking and harassing people who were joining and by persuading others not to join. The institute has rejected all charges of union busting.

Planned teachers strike declared illegal: A strike called shortly before the start of the school year in September was ruled illegal by courts and cancelled. To protest the lack of progress in contract talks and the expansion of an educational reform programme, the Secondary Schools Teachers Association declared a one-day general strike in the secondary school system a day before the new school year was set to begin.

Cleaners fired for striking: Reports state that the cleaning contractor hired by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to replace a company whose contract was terminated because it underpaid its workers is also violating the rights of its workers by dismissing former strikers. The workers kept their jobs when the contractors were changed, but the new contractor, Hetz Or, reportedly began firing workers who had complained about the previous contractor's labour violations – in a few days in November it fired three long-term employees who had been part of the earlier campaign. Other violations include the deduction of union fees from the salary slips, despite the fact that there was no union, and underpayment of pension premiums. A coalition of students from several labour and social advocacy organisations had fought for the cleaners' rights under the previous company, Dynamica.

Diplomatic staff and strikebreaking: Throughout most of 2010 diplomatic staff organised by the Foreign Ministry's trade union undertook strike action and go-slows. The government responded to the numerous actions 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.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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