Contractors and permit traders illegally demand that Palestinian workers pay NIS 7,000 per month in an attempt to bypass a new directive to pay wages straight into workers’ bank accounts.
Until recently, a large group of Palestinians, who wanted to get a work permit in Israel, have had to pay some NIS 2,500 (US$ 715) per month to Israeli contractors and Palestinian mediators who trade illegally in work permits.
In a policy decision (January 2023) that was aimed to stop this illegal trade in permits, employers of Palestinians have been required to pay wages straight into workers’ bank accounts, instead of in cash as many used to do. MAAN was in favor of this step. This reform, initiated by the Payments Division (part of Israel’s Interior Ministry), presumably would have enabled greater oversight over the transfer of money. The idea was that employers who reported that they employ a specific worker can now be checked to ensure they are indeed transferring that workers’ wages.
Reality proved to contradict this aim. Based on information gathered by workers, MAAN warns that the new directive only made things worst. According to the workers in recent days it became clear that Israeli contractors and Palestinian permit traders have simply shifted the cost onto the workers.
Now, in addition to NIS 2,500 per month for the permit, workers are compelled to give the mediators in advance by cash or through post-dated checks a minimum of NIS 4,500 (US$ 1285), accounting for supposedly a minimum wage. Then they should just hope that the contractor – their official employer – will deposit the same sum in their bank accounts at the beginning of the following month. When the contractor deposits this sum, it will look like he is paying the worker’s wage as required by law. In fact, it is merely a repayment of the money the worker paid him previously through cash or postdated check.
This ploy is intended to allow the contractors and their mediators to continue extorting NIS 2,500 from workers each month. In reality workers who buy their permits this way (assumed at 70,000) will continue to get their salaries with no supervision or registration from other informal employers who pay them cash.
As mentioned before workers reported to MAAN about this new outrageous way to extort them. This was then confirmed by a Facebook post of one of the Palestinian mediators on January 2nd that wrote down in words how the procedure works. The payments and the system for circumventing the law are described there openly.
Other workers testified to even bigger demands for post-dated checks which, together with the cost for the work permit, reaches the sum of NIS 8,000 (US$ 2285) per month. Without doubt this is an attempt by the contractors and mediators trading in work permits to avoid the new directive.
In light of this information, MAAN, together with Kav Laoved and the Tel Aviv University Legal Clinic for Workers Rights contacted the authorities, and demanded they act immediately to stop this development. As we noted in a joint letter (Jan. 3, 2023) “this is a dramatic violation of rights and cynical exploitation of Palestinian workers who are anyway precariously employed and vulnerable. The new arrangement has brought them to the brink of “slavery”, as defined by international law. The joint letter mentioned that Israel committed itself to ending human trafficking in 2006 and demanded that effective steps would be taken to end this trade in permits.
Once again, and following the reform of 2020, we see how the authorities’ efforts to stop the trade in permits only make the situation worse. The criminal network of hundreds of Israeli contractors working with Palestinian mediators has proven itself more efficient and dynamic than the authorities who work sluggishly with insufficient enforcement, refusing to acknowledge their repeated failures.
MAAN opposes the current permit system. This system is based on contractor control of the work permits, which is clearly the source of the problem. The authorities claim that there must be someone in Israel who will monitor each Palestinian worker entering Israel for security reasons. This claim holds no water – the Palestinians who buy a permit on the black market are not employed by the employer registered on the permit in any case so nobody can tell where they actually work and follow them. Instead of this failed system we propose a Green Card for Palestinian workers. MAAN, together with LEAP (Legal Aid for Palestinians), published on January 2022 a policy paper that was distributed widely and sent to all the relevant authorities. According to our proposal Palestinians with Magnetic Cards will be issued with personal permits, and thus would not be bounded to any specific contractor. This will enable them to choose for themselves their place of work, thus it will put an end to the black market in work permits once and for all.