The Israeli Government Report in response to OECD’s 16 recommendations on Welfare and Labour contains much talk, but little willingness for action

Much Ado about Nothing. While the OECD delegation was visiting Israel in September 2012, I was asked to present my view as a representative of WAC regarding the progress made in the labor market. The following remarks were made on the booklet which was prepared by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment, under the title “Progress Report in applying the OECD Recommendations on the labor market and social policy”(June 2012, page 175).

Much Ado about Nothing.

While the OECD delegation was visiting Israel in September 2012, I was asked to present my view as a representative of WAC regarding the progress made in the labor market. The following remarks were made on the booklet which was prepared by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment, under the title “Progress Report in applying the OECD Recommendations on the labor market and social policy”(June 2012, page 175).


The report by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment describes the various government offices’ action regarding the 16 recommendations made in 2010 by the OECD’s committee of employment and welfare. In light of WAC’s intense involvement in the job placement of Arab women and men, and given massive importation of foreign labor, our criticism of the Ministry‘s report focuses on this specific area (covered in chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the report). We will also relate to several additional areas: the issue of professional training and the Wisconsin Plan (chapter 2) and the issue of the status of Palestinian workers (chapter 14).

Lack of Progress with regard to Employment of Arab Women

An increase in the participation of Arab women in the work force has been a declared goal of the Israeli government for several years. This was true before the OECD recommendations were made in 2010. Recently the government defined fresh objectives: in the year 2020 the rate of employment of Arab women in the work force will increase to 41% (decision 4193 of January 2012).

The Ministry’s report mentions measures and programs for promoting this worthy cause. For example, NIS 9 million were invested for training 50 Arab women per year in nursing (the Woman of Valor program), as well as courses to encourage Arab women’s initiatives (1000 women participated in 2011). In addition, investments were made to improve transportation in Arab localities and to establish solutions for childcare.

However, when these partial measures are seen in the context of needs, they are drops in the ocean. Government steps in this direction have not precipitated satisfactory levels of change. Moreover, the level of social distress directly connected to poverty, and the lack of infrastructure in Arab towns and villages, are only getting worse, along with an increase in violence within schools and in the streets, accompanied by a series of murders related to social neglect and hooliganism.

In light of the planned budget cuts (budget of 2013), there is an additional concern that even programs which have been launched will be diminished.

Given all this, it is not clear why the Ministry’s report fails to relate to the obstacles impeding progress in the right direction. Presenting intended goals and marginal programs distorts the full picture and avoids dealing with the existing problems. The result is mere cosmetics.

In order to illustrate the issue, two subjects will be discussed on which the government can take immediate action yet refuses to do so: 1. ceasing to import foreign labor, which takes jobs from Arab women in agriculture and nursing; 2. absorbing a large number of Arab men and women into the public sector, thus administering affirmative action policies.

A. Termination of employing foreign workers in agriculture and nursing

WAC’s experience has shown that each attempt to advance employment of Arab women in agriculture has failed due to the importation of foreign labor from Thailand. Presently there are 26,000 Thai agricultural workers, who are easily exploited. In order to get work permits, they must pay large amounts, as much as $10,000, to agents in Thailand and in Israel. They borrow the money and arrive deep in debt. Because of this vulnerability, the Thai worker is unable to raise any claims about low wages, bad treatment or bad conditions (at least during his first few years). Any dispute arising from such a complaint with the employer puts the worker at risk of being deported back to Thailand, where his or her life and the lives of their families will be at stake due to the debt.

Thus the branch of agriculture is flooded with cheap labor, hired at 60% of minimum wage, without any social benefits. In these circumstances, it is impossible to change the farmers’ attitudes. For the past seven years WAC has been making huge efforts to convince farmers to hire Arab women. During this period we have been successful in creating work relations based on trust with farmers who have hired hundreds of Arab women to the great satisfaction of both parties. However, this is the exception. The general picture is one of failure, because most of the farms are full of Thai workers. Therefore, the employment of Arab women workers can only be on a part time or temporary basis when there is an overload of work.

WAC is well known to government institutions and our reports are distributed to many ministries and offices as background material. WAC representatives meet regularly with government ministers and directors of ministry offices, clerks and officials. Despite the sympathy expressed for our efforts, we must admit at this point that we have failed to change policy. (For further information on WAC’s activities see On the Prime Minister’s and many ministers’ shelves there are quite a few official reports, academic research studies, and reports of social organizations which document the grim circumstances discussed here. Governments have adopted a series of decisions, all of which point to the need to put an end to these senseless policies. (The most important report is one written by Professor Zvi Eckstein when he served as deputy governor of the Bank of Israel under the title “Committee for creating policy on the matter of workers who are not Israeli,” September 2007 (Hebrew). The recommendation on farm workers suggests that Israel has to reduce the number of migrant workers in this sector to 5000 within a period of 5 years.

None of these recommendations have been adopted. Every year the powerful lobby of manpower agencies who import foreign workers for farmers, together with the farmers’ lobby, twists the government’s arm and once again postpones the necessary cut. This has been the situation since 2007; the number of foreign workers permitted for agriculture has not been lowered and still stands at 26,000 as of 2012.

Moreover, in the first week of September 2012, when the OECD committee on employment and welfare visited Israel, the government approved the importation of an additional 2350 foreign workers from Thailand, referring to an urgent need for lowering the prices of fruit and vegetables in the markets. The official excuse was that in order to reach the current importation quota of 26,000, the farmers need these 2350 workers.

The bottom line is clear; the government totally lacks determination to end the practice of slave trade which supplies Israel with cheap, exploitable labor. It is important to stress the fact that we are talking about creating thousands of jobs for Arab women, with no need for the kind of capital investment that is necessary for building industry or establishing new employment centers. What is needed here is merely an administrative decision to cease the importation of foreign workers. Only such a decision can create thousands of job openings, forcing farmers to hire Arabs from nearby villages. The economic, social and political benefits of such a change are evident.

B. The failure to absorb Arab workers in the public sector

According to Government Decision 2579 from November 2007, by the year 2012 the percentage of Arabs working in the public sector should reach 10%. This goal was adopted before Israel joined the OECD. Yet in spite of the government’s commitment, the report by the Ministry of Industry Trade and Employment indicates a failure in this area. The percentage of Arabs employed in the public sector has increased from 7% in 2009 to 7.8% in 2011. However this is still far from the goal set in 2007, which was in itself a modest one. (The percentage of working-age Arabs in the overall population is 17.8%). Here again, the government’s lack of incentive stands out. Some 13,500 Arab academics are officially unemployed (see report by Dr. Yosef Jabarin presented to the Caesarea Conference 2010). According to reports and researches, many of them work in areas which are not in their field of training due to lack of opportunity. How can this failure to absorb Arab workers in the public sector be explained? Clearly, if there were determination and consistency, it would have been possible to dramatically increase the percentage of Arabs serving in the public sector.

Professional training and the Wisconsin Program

The report by the Ministry for Industry, Trade and Employment about training the unemployed presents its reader with thick fog. It is not at all clear whether the Wisconsin Program will continue as the government’s flagship measure for helping the unemployed. (The Program was discontinued in 2010 after failing to win a parliamentary majority.) In the summary response to recommendation No.2, it was said that the Wisconsin Program was stopped in April 2010 and that a nationwide launch has not taken place despite a government decision to go ahead in July 2010 (Decision 2002). The report itself, however, makes no reference to the Wisconsin Program. In the 40 pages that discuss “Programs to enhance professional training and proactive employment policy,” there is not a single sentence on the virtues and vices of the Wisconsin plan. This exacerbates the confusion as to government policy towards the unemployed.

Whatever the policy, it is impossible not to wonder at the absence of any serious debate and any conclusions concerning the failure over five whole years to implement the Wisconsin Program. Investment in Wisconsin ran to hundreds of millions of shekels, and it was hailed as a flagship program so that all job-seekers in areas where it operated were transferred to it from existing schemes.

Throughout its time of operation, the Wisconsin Program was criticised by social welfare organisations as well as by job-seekers themselves. Criticism centered on the specific model adopted by the Israeli government, which was exploitative of the unemployed, and which failed to give them a better chance in the work-market.

The most important criticism concerned the total lack of investment in professional training. Rather than develop training in required professions, such as electricians, construction and metal workers, the authorities channelled money towards courses in superficial skills such as appearance and resume-writing. In fact, during the implementation of the Wisconsin Program, professional training courses suffered severe budgetary cuts.

The Ministry Report mentions several initiatives in professional training. But as long as the Ministry does not make a major shift of policy on this issue, it is difficult to see how such a sporadic list of initiatives and budgets could possibly lead to a solution to the difficult questions posed by unemployment, and especially by tens of thousands of youngsters who join the work-market each year.

For example, the report mentions Government Decision 1539 of March 2010, according to which Training Vouchers will be distributed among the unemployed, the under-employed and those outside the work-market in the Arab sector. Beneficiaries of this scheme must secure their own apprenticeships, and the Voucher then allows them to be paid for a time while being trained. It is noted in the report that in 2011, 187 such vouchers were distributed, at a cost of one million shekels, i.e. NIS 5500 per person. It is not clear whether the money was paid out to the employer or the apprentice, and how. There is no explanation, nor justification for the scheme, and above all: 1 million shekels is a pitiable sum that can clearly change nothing.

A number of other small scale programs are mentioned, but their efficacy is questionable and their impact, by virtue of their scale, negligible. For instance, a project to train Arab women in nursing was allocated NIS 20 million over five years, with the aim of integrating fifty new students each year. With all due respect to its positive aim, this is a very small number if one considers the fact that app. 14,000 Arab women graduate from high-school each year.

In order to complete the picture, let us mention that only 4% of school children in Israel (Jews and Arabs) take professional qualification examinations, compared with 64% in Germany… This status quo indicates that, even within the educational system, where the government can exercise complete control, there has been no significant change in recent years. The trend of neglecting to invest in professional training, and blaming the unemployed for their own predicament, continues. The belief in a magic economic hand that will somehow create optimal conditions for everyone’s personal advancement continues to be widespread, and the outcomes follow accordingly.

Preference given to migrant workers over Palestinian workers

Steps taken by the government in this area are also too little and too late. Despite a clear economic and political assertion that employing Palestinians is the right way forward, the government continues to prefer migrant workers from far away countries such as Thailand (agriculture), Philippines, Nepal and India (nursing and care work) and China (construction).

For example, tens of thousands of Palestinian construction workers, who were employed in Israel in the past, today suffer unemployment and poverty. Building contractors have informed WAC Maan that after a recent government decision to increase the quota of permits for Palestinian workers by 5,000, the number of requests to get Palestinian workers put forward by contractors came to 21,000. Because the Government allowed only 5000 into Israel, the contractors were able to hire only about a quarter of the number they required. We are aware of disagreements within the Building Contractors Association between firms that prefer to employ Palestinians and those that want to continue working with Chinese migrant workers. According to a reliable source, a clear governmental decision to exempt Palestinian workers from the effects of security-based quarantines will give contractors the stability they require and settle the dispute in their favour. However, the government refuses to take a stand on this matter.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai only last July gave the go-ahead to import thousands of additional Chinese workers in order to placate the lobbies of contractors and employment agencies. Later it was revealed that a chief aide of this Minister was working for a Personnel Company that imports migrant workers. Several years ago, another minister, from the same party, was convicted of receiving bribes in return for approving the import of construction workers.

The result in the case of Palestinian workers beyond the Security Barrier is poverty, unemployment and despair; but those Israeli officials who believe that the situation will remain safely hidden are very much mistaken. Those who have eyes to see understand that it is in all our interests to support the employment of Palestinian instead of migrant workers.

Conclusion: Israel formally accepted the responsibilities that were a condition for joining the prestigious and important OECD club. There are a number of new initiatives which have taken place as a result of these commitments, including integrating more Arab academics in the public sector and striving to increase Arab women’s share in the work-market. However, as pointed out above, the changes that have occurred are merely cosmetic. At the strategic level, government policy continues in the same destructive direction, which is surely leading us to social and political combustion.

We believe that the social protest movement that began in Israel in the summer of 2011 was a direct reaction to the polarisation within Israeli society. Although the middle classes were split, and have mostly stopped protesting since then, the internal contradictions that made them take to the streets are still there. If the global economic crisis continues, a second wave of protest will arise. It is probable that this second wave will involve poorer, less “polite” sectors.

WAC-MAAN has been acting for over a decade to increase public awareness of these issues. We act in cooperation with any public or governmental body willing to promote change in existing perceptions, especially regarding poverty and unemployment in the Arab sector. Our experience tells us that there is openness for change, but the public has only limited patience. As soon as the economic crisis begins to hit Israel hard, such patience as we’ve seen so far will disappear. The time for action is now. For our part, we intend to continue working for the values we believe in, whether with the cooperation of the authorities (which seems unlikely at the moment) or without.

A report on the meeting of the OECD delegation with WAC’s Executive Director


The East Jerusalem Project

Significant Achievements of MAAN – Workers Association in Protecting Workers’ Rights

Since the outbreak of the war, MAAN – Workers Association has secured the labor rights, social security benefits, unemployment benefits, and support for work accidents for over 300 residents of East Jerusalem. This includes opening checkpoints and distributing food vouchers, translating to over 3 million NIS in benefits. Notably, over 40% of those who received assistance are women.

Palestinian Workers

The government’s decision to massively import overseas workers is social lawlessness, a disaster for both the economy and security. It must be revoked and Palestinians must be allowed to return to their jobs in Israel

Wednesday, May 15, the Israeli government approved a structural reform on employment of migrant workers where it allowed a ceiling of 330,000 overseas workers in the Israeli job market. MAAN sees this decision as a step that defies all economic logic, contradicts labor market planning, and opens the way to a dangerous expansion of human trafficking for labor purposes in Israel. In addition, the decision reflects complete disregard for the consequences of the continued halt in employment of Palestinians.

The East Jerusalem Project

Severe employment crisis in East Jerusalem ahead of Ramadan

On the eve of Ramadan, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are facing an economic and social crisis exacerbated by a 7.6 per cent increase in unemployment since the outbreak of the war. Despite the crisis, the government is severely undermining its own five-year plan for East Jerusalem. MAAN Workers Association (hence MAAN) calls on the mayor and the incoming city council to secure budgets to reduce socio-economic gaps in the city.

Palestinian Workers

MAAN and Kav Laoved write to Immigration and Population Authority and demand to reserve a place in the quota for Palestinian workers with a permit who resigned/fired during the “Iron Swords” war

The two workers’ rights groups wrote on Feb. 13 to Mr. Moshe Nakash the head of the Immigration and Population Authority and demanded that special measures will be taken to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian workers and also to enable Israeli employers to overcome the crisis and keep their experienced workers.


אנא כתבו את שמכם המלא, טלפון ותיאור קצר של נושא הפנייה, ונציג\ה של מען יחזרו אליכם בהקדם האפשרי.

رجاءً اكتبوا اسمكم الكامل، الهاتف، ووصف قصير حول موضوع توجهكم، ومندوب عن نقابة معًا سيعاود الاتصال بكم لاحقًا

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