A reform is finally in place that will end the binding of Palestinian workers to employers and stop the illegal trade in work permits! This month we are excited to announce a significant policy change that KLO has been working toward for a number of years.
For decades, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers in Israel were employed in a manner that limited their bargaining power, tied them to licensed Israeli employers and spawned a blackmarket trade in work permits, debt bondage and the payment of exorbitant brokerage fees. For 40 years—and nearly 20 years after the binding policy of migrant workers was overturned by a High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruling, which named it a form of modern-day slavery—Palestinian workers carried their employer’s name in their work permits. Their legal right to work in Israel was dependent on their employer, which meant that they could not leave jobs with poor conditions and transfer to better employment options without endangering their legal right to work in Israel.  Over the years, various actors have taken advantage of opportunities to make a profit off the backs of Palestinian workers: middle-men charged brokerage fees for permits and employers traded the permits they were allocated through various illegal and opaque channels. The economic implication of this has been that many workers have been forced to pay 1500-3000 ILS each month for their work permit. The Bank of Israel conducted extensive research on the subject and estimated the annual illegal revenue in Israel from the sale of work permits at 480 million ILS.
KLO has been working for a number of years to change this situation. In 2016, Hannah Zohar, KLO founder, was one of several people asked to present options for employing Palestinians in Israel to an inter-ministerial committee reviewing the model of Palestinian employment. She was the only one who presented the idea of transitioning to a model in which the permit would be given to the worker instead of the employer.  KLO’s proposal was selected by the committee and included in their policy recommendations to the state. In a summary report of their deliberations issued in August 2016, the inter-ministerial committee suggested that the state replace the current employer-issued permit system with one based on worker-issued permits relevant for particular sectors. A few months after the committee’s recommendations, the government adopted the new model, but dragged its feet for years in actually implementing it. The State Comptroller recently criticized the state’s foot dragging, pointing to the damage done by this employment model and the fact that years have gone by without any concrete changes.
In an effort to address the lack of action and the ongoing violation of workers’ rights, KLO filed a HCJ petition this September to demand that reforms be implemented immediately to stop the binding of workers and the trade in work permits. The petition was filed with the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) under the auspices of an EU-funded project called Dignity in Work.
And the results came soon after. The state had to respond to the HCJ regarding the petition—and their response was to finally issue an official reform policy that would go into effect on December 6, 2020.
There is a lot of work to be done. The state must ensure that a system is in place to allow workers to search for open jobs independently in order to prevent the current situation in which brokerage fees are rampant in the labor market. They must make sure that no one will find indirect ways to extort the workers, and, no less important, to inform Palestinian workers about the start of this new policy. Despite this, we have reason for hope on December 6: the era of binding Palestinian workers to their employers is over.