Read it and Weep: The Supreme Court Rejects Our Appeal – Upholding the Discriminatory "Jordan Valley Regulations"

Last month, the Supreme Court accepted the government’s stance that Palestinian, migrant workers and refugees seem to sue their employers merely for fun. They simply must enjoy the long and bureaucratic process of going to court. Difficult as it is to believe, this is the government’s argument:

Two years ago, Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked decided to find a way to reduce the burden on Israeli employers being sued by their (disenfranchised) employees. With this goal in mind, she introduced regulations that would require all “non-citizens” to pay labor courts financial guarantees upfront to file a case. She nicknamed these new rules “The Jordan Valley Regulations” because primarily they would keep poor Palestinians employed in agriculture from speaking up when their Israeli employers failed to pay them even minimum wage let alone other labor rights.

By demanding more money than these workers have to access labor courts, the regulations worked like magic: the amount of workers who dared to sue significantly declined. Kav LaOved in partnership with Adalah (the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, petitioned the Supreme Court to stand up for access to justice for all individuals in Israel by rejecting these regulations. We had trouble imagining a scenario in which the Supreme Court would view these regulations as reasonable or just since the exploitation and violation of labor rights by Israeli farmers in the Jordan Valley is both well-known and well-documented. Apparently, our imagination was limited.

Last month our petition was denied. Justices Sohlberg and Grosskopf gladly accepted the premise of Ayelet Shaked’s Jewish Home Party (Habayit Hayehudi) – that lawsuits submitted by Jewish workers are a legitimate act to achieve justice, and yet the same act by Palestinians is a "Lawsuits Intifada". The judges ruled that lawsuits brought by Palestinian workers are redundant from the start and that facts of the specific cases are not their concern – their statements speak for themselves:

Judge Grosskopf claimed: "The right to access courts, in whose name this petition was submitted, reflects a fundamental value in the Israeli legal system. But alongside this value are important considerations that must not be ignored: the defendant’s legitimate interest not to be bothered by unjustified claims and the systemic consideration of preventing the court system from being overrun by redundant proceedings.”
With Judge Sohlberg adding, “It is doubtful whether it is necessary to trace the factual basis that led to the passing of the regulations. After the regulation has come into effect, the core of the discussion is the question of its reasonability. Once it is found reasonable and proportionate, as this one has been found, I find no need to contemplate the factual data in the background of its origin."

Apparently when it comes to access to courts, or the labor rights those courts were supposed to protect, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled not all are equal before the law.
Reading between the Liness: the Knesset's Social Affairs Committee Hosted a Turbulent Debate about the (Lack of) Safety Regulations on Construction Sites

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, on September 13, the Knesset’s Labor and Social Affairs Committee held a session to discuss work accidents in the construction sector. Kav LaOved submitted a position paper specifying the following recommendations for reform:

The immediate filling of 20 vacant safety inspector and accident investigator positions in the safety administration.
Merging the Safety and Health in Employment Administration with the Institute for Safety and Hygiene, establishing a single governmental authority designated wholly to deal with workers' safety.
A legal amendment enabling the closure of those sites found to have life-threatening safety violations for 30 days.
That the Labor Minister require construction companies use fall-prevention nets and only scaffolding that meet the European standards.
Establishment a national police unit which will include both police and OSHA investigators specifically trained to investigate work accidents in the construction sector. Lastly, we urged the Contractors’ Registrar (which grants construction companies the license to work in Israel) of the agency’s authority, including their ability to revoke of contractors' licenses in cases of disregard to workers' life and safety, and in fact suggested a broadening of their authority in order to urge the agency into action.

It is no secret the safety situation in this sector is bad: during 2018, 30 workers were killed in construction sites, and nearly 140 additional workers were moderately or seriously injured. Many safety standards in this sector haven't been updated in 20 years, despite the sector’s 80% growth, and yet decision makers are chasing their own tails, blaming each other for the unnecessary and yet totally predictable loss of life.
It was also subtly implied that the Labor Minister's flagship project, one that promised to levy fines on contractors found in violation of safety standards as a deterrent mechanism has utterly failed. Now, all eyes are directed to see the Labor Minister’s next step as he promised that in November he would submit a draft amendment to safety regulations, which will require contractors to only use scaffolding that meet the European standard. The Labor Minister has claimed that it would take another 20 more laws before he is able to do his job effectively.

Knesset Member Itzik Shmuli, a member of the committee then proceeded to adopt three of our suggestions into his proposed bill. This step, alongside the scaffolding regulation reform tentatively scheduled to come into effect in November, as well as the Histadrut’s (Israel’s largest labor union) current mobilization against work accidents all combine to create a sense of cautious optimism.
Read and Wish Things Were Different Here: One Migrant Worker's Story

Katya came to us in the middle of September. She stood there, lost between the many people who came to reception, trying to make eye contact. It was Tuesday, and we do not receive caregivers this day of the week, but something about this woman, who was fidgeting with her purse strap until her knuckles whitened, made us give her an appointment anyway. Katya sat on the edge of her seat, said a short prayer and thanked the lord for giving her a small mercy before she started talking. She had come from Moldova four years ago and was working for her last employer for the last two years. Last Friday he sent her out to buy something, and when she came back, she found him dead. He has taken his own life.

Agitated and grief-stricken she called his son, to deliver the tragic news. His response was clear: Katya was asked to take her things and leave immediately. Crying, she begged the man’s son to spend the night in the apartment that had became her home and agreed she would leave the next day. On Saturday, she packed all her possessions into a small suitcase and landed in a home where another caregiving worker lived. She was not allowed to come to the funeral.

We provided Katya with a calculation of the salary and benefits she had earned and sent the calculation to her employer’s son. The letter we sent out did the trick: the son agreed to pay Katya what she had worked so hard for.

When we called Katya to tell her she is free to find a new employer or go back home, she blessed us in the lord's name and thanked us hoarsely. "What's wrong?" we asked. Katya was silent for a moment and then answered, "I am not done yet returning the brokerage fees I had taken 4 years ago, but I don't want to stay here. I'm traumatized. On the other hand, returning home is problematic too. When I come back to Moldova I'll stay at my sister's…" "Why at your sister's?" we asked, even though we felt like we had already pried too much. "I haven’t been home for four years" she explained "and my husband found somebody else. Now she lives in my home. It is how it is."
It is how it is.
It's October now, and everyone is returning from the holiday season, step by step, to regular business. The Knesset is returning from its recess and the courts reconvene to discuss petitions. Letters to employers or government agencies that were sent in August begin to receive responses, and as we open each as our hearts skip a beat. Every letter is an entire world; every decision affects people's lives: livelihood, wellbeing, and hope. Even when it seems that ensuring basic rights is a never ending quest – suddenly good news arrives: here the Population and Immigration Authority acted against an employer who housed construction workers in inhumane conditions, a the court hands down a good ruling to a worker. No success here is a foregone conclusion as we see above.  
We'll meet again in the next newsletter, with updates and news. The struggle for workers' rights is never finished, and beyond the legal arguments and our faith in the virtue of our cause, now we have Katya's prayers on our side too.
Kav LaOved Workers’ Hotline
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