3 January 2013
More than 250 contract workers and activists came together December 31 to demand that Israel’s decision-makers take concrete steps to ensure their direct and fair employment.
Contract work is a growing phenomenon and a major contributor to social gaps and economic injustice. In Israel, regular employees are guaranteed benefits such as retirement pensions, continuing education credits, vacation time, and more. Contract workers, however, are excluded from these protections. In addition to losing out on the long list of social benefits, they work for lower wages than their directly employed colleagues and are easily fired.
The goal of the gathering was to ensure that the issue of indirect employment – which affects more than 300,000 workers in Israel – be high on the agenda in the upcoming elections.
The high-level Knesset members in attendance at the tempestuous gathering were themselves quite direct.
“I will not be a part of a governing coalition that does not commit to solving the problem of indirect employment,” stated Labor party MK Eitan Cabel.
“The issue must be a part of any coalition negotiations,” said Dimona mayor Meir Cohen. “We will not allow employment by contract.”
And former Defense Minister and Labor Party head Amir Peretz stated, “Whatever position I’m in, I will protect the fate of the workers.”
Five of the seven current and future MKs promised to recommend that their party platforms endorse the recommendations of the NIF-supported Coalition for Direct Employment, among them the gradual direct employment of the majority of public sector workers and an increase in salaries for those who will remain contract workers.
The Coalition, of which SHATIL is a leading member, organized the gathering with support from NIF.
Four workers who led campaigns for better working conditions addressed the gathering, including a social worker, two teachers, and a preschool assistant.
“There are professions in which you don’t have a chance of being directly employed – care giving, kindergarten assistants, guards, cleaners, and many teachers and social workers,” said Yael Wolfenson, a SHATIL representative to the Coalition.
Shira Cohen, the Knesset cafeteria worker who, with the Coalition’s and SHATIL’s help, won a precedent-setting case that will benefit many other contract workers generated excitement.
So did Shuli Moalem, a future MK from the Jewish Home party, when she said that new public sector workers cannot be directly employed at first because they need a trial period.
“Do you want to be given a trial period as a Knesset member?” a social worker employed by contract called out, reflecting the audience’s anger.
The Coalition for Direct Employment is composed of 34 social organizations, among them flagship NIF grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Worker’s Hotline, the Israeli Students’ Union and SHATIL, which work to influence government policy in favor of direct and fair employment, in part through the creation of a major Knesset direct employment lobby.
The conference took place at the Seminar Hakkubutzim College, one of Israel’s premier teacher-training institutions, where students may be surprised to discover they will most likely be contract workers when they begin teaching.