Population: 6,900,000
Capital: Jerusalem
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Although workers are free to join and establish trade unions and to organise and bargain collectively, most employers breach the labour law. Palestinian workers in Israel, even with permits, are hounded by the authorities. The university threatened to lock out striking lecturers, and workers at the Davidson Institute were beaten during a protest.

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.

New labour law: At the beginning of 2008, the government introduced a bill that would monitor the implementation of labour laws based on cooperation between the government, Histadrut and private employers' organisations. The bill proposed a series of warnings and fines for non-compliance with labour laws, and places responsibility for maintaining the rights of workers, like cleaners and guards, on the body commissioning their services. In October 2007, the Histadrut petitioned the Israeli High Court that laws should apply equally to Palestinian workers in the occupied territories. It ruled that Palestinians working for Israeli employers in West Bank settlements should be given work benefits according to Israeli, rather than Jordanian, law. However, it had not passed into law by the year's end.

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. The Israeli government issued an additional 5,000 permits for Palestinian workers, of which 2,000 are for the construction sector, but at the same time it brought in a special tax for Israeli construction firms who employ Palestinians. The declared purpose is to guarantee that the cost of employing Palestinian workers does not fall short of the cost of employing migrant workers. It is likely that these taxes will be taken out of the Palestinian workers' wages.

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% of their wages to Histadrut (half of which the federation remits to the bank account of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)).

In June 2008, Histradrut and the PGFTU signed an agreement, building on the original agreement, in which Histadrut agreed to reimburse the PGFTU the outstanding balance of union and legal representation fees paid since 1993 by Palestinians working for Israeli employers and to implement the early agreement to transfer 50% of union dues to the PGFTU. In addition, the Histadrut committed itself to assisting Palestinian workers who had worked for Israel employers, to provide them with legal help and to improve their working conditions.

All non-resident workers are allowed 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 2008

Background: The effects of the high military spending has affected Israel's social budgets, and Histadrut called a general strike in November to protest against government proposals to withdraw collectively agreed tax exemptions from workers' savings schemes. There were many strikes during the year.

Most workers can exercise their union rights freely, though the labour courts often issue back-to-work orders in various sectors, as with a strike by port workers in September, and one by airport authority employees in November. 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% 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 (from 19 to 77). This decision followed the recommendations of the Steering Committee composed of representatives from the Histadrut, the Coordinating Bureau of Economic Organizations, and the Ministries of Industry, Commerce and Employment, and Finance.

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. In addition to the travelling time involved, they are sometimes harassed and humiliated by border guards. In September, border guards arrested 200 Palestinian labourers who had work permits and in another incident beat up 20 workers with work permits. There were also reports that Israeli forces raided workplaces, tore up work permits, arrested Palestinians and put them through the court system.

In recent years, Israel has 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.

Migrant workers: Migrant workers, who make up around 7% of the working population, are increasingly coming from Asia. Many migrant workers are mistreated and threatened with deportation to deny them their basic rights. Foreign 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.

University threatens to lock out striking lecturers: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem threatened to lock out striking lecturers on 17 January. The lecturers had started a partial strike at the beginning of November 2007 over pay, and refused to teach classes but continued to carry out research and receive 50% of their salaries. The University also threatened to take out injunctions against the striking lecturers. The dispute was settled the following day on 18 January.

Antiquities workers fired for complaining at lack of benefits: 15 workers at the Israeli Antiquities Authority were fired in early February after they complained about their terms of employment. The workers went to Kav La'Oved, the workers' rights organisation, which took up their case, and after it submitted its findings to the employment agencies division of the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry the 15 workers concerned were sacked.

Workers demanding union beaten: Workers at the Davidson Institute, part of the Weizmann Institute in Tel Aviv, were beaten up by guards, and one was injured, after they protested about the university's refusal to recognise their union, part of the Koach La'Ovdim union, in December. The workers asked the university legal clinic to take up their case to unionise, but the legal clinic was ordered by Tel Aviv University administration to stop representing them.

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