For years, Palestinian workers in Israel have been fully bound to their employers, whose names were stamped in their entry visas. This binding undermines workers’ bargaining power and ability to stand up for their rights, leading also to a rising trade in work permits. It is a well-known fact that Palestinian workers buy permits for thousands of shekels a month, a cruel reality conducted under the nose of the authorities in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Then the reform came
In 2016, the government decided to reform this distorted employment model, creating new measures to free workers from being bound to one employer, improve their bargaining power, and, along the way, stop the growing trade in work permits. This decision, however, was not implemented for four years due to repeated postponements. In September 2020, Kav LaOved and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court to demand implementation of the reform. Following the petition, the reform was finally introduced in December of last year, but only in the construction sector.

These are the key points of the reform:
  • It is prohibited to employ Palestinian workers through a subcontractor or an Manpower company.
  • It is prohibited to transfer workers from one employer to another.
  • Criteria have been established to identify employers suspected of trading in permits.
  • Palestinian workers are given a period of 60 days to enter Israel in order to search for an employer. 

Despite the reform’s impressive scope, at least on paper, its implementation has been problematic. The reform was not announced to workers and Kav LaOved’s interviews with workers reveal that the trade in permits has not decreased—in fact the reform may have actually raised their price. Equally serious is the fact that workers are still required to sign draconian promissory notes, which tie them to permit dealers. As for pay slips, even today only a very small percentage (about 12%) of workers in the construction sector receive them regularly and among these workers the vast majority (about 85%) do not understand what is written in them. Furthermore, about 95% of those who do actually receive pay slips say that their pay slip does not match their actual salary. It has also become clear recently that a technical glitch linked to the reform has meant that social benefits in thousands of pay slips issued to workers were not calculated properly according to the worker’s tenure with their employer. Despite promises to rectify the situation, it is still unclear what will happen to the sick and vacation days which have not been included in workers’ pay slips for months.

In short - the reform is still not working. This is mainly because it has not been accompanied by measures promised to ensure freedom of movement, reduce dependence on brokers and enable an independent job search.
In the resulting vacuum of rights protection, Kav LaOved strives to support workers and update them on their rights per the new reform.

The Overall Status of Palestinian Workers
new report by Kav LaOved published this March reveals a systematic violation of Palestinian workers’ rights:
  • 34% of Palestinian construction workers (who represent 75% of all workers in the construction sector) still pay brokerage fees to obtain a work permit.
  • 84.7% of Palestinian workers asked their employer to provide sick leave, but only 7.8% received this benefit.
  • 74.6% of workers reported that no one had informed them that they were accumulating pension benefits through an established pension fund set up for Palestinian workers employed in Israel.
  • Most workers reported that they do not receive a pay slip as required by law, and are therefore unable to track the salary and benefits to which they are entitled. 
How is such a blatant disregard for the law possible? One of the main reasons is the pervasive lack of enforcement. Despite the bleak situation facing Palestinian workers, state enforcement efforts are very poor: the Population and Immigration Authority conducted only 37 enforcement actions (for over 80,000 Palestinian workers) in 2018 and only 41 enforcement actions in 2019. This is how harmful practices—at odds with regulations, laws and reforms—are established. 

And we can’t forget about the abuses relating to pension and sick leave benefits:
It is important to shed light on the injustices surrounding
pension and sick leave benefits as it has been particularly egregious. Despite workers contributing to a designated pension fund through automatic deductions from their salaries, the fund was managed in an unprofessional manner and huge sums accumulated in pension accounts (as of 2014, 1.5 billion NIS), never actually reaching workers. Even worse, contrary to the accepted practice of encouraging pension savings, workers were encouraged to withdraw their money early, in lump sums, instead of saving it for their future retirement. In light of this, KLO submitted a petition to the High Court in 2015 demanding that the state reform the management of the pension fund. Five years later, the state finally announced that it had contracted the Amitim Pension Fund organization to manage a pension fund specifically for Palestinian workers, and the breach of their rights was expected to come to an end. With cautious optimism, we can project that the first workers to enjoy a real pension will be those who retire at the end of the third decade of the 21st century.
The picture is not much different regarding
sick leave benefits: employers of Palestinian workers were required to contribute fixed amounts to a sick leave benefit fund, but only 4% of workers were actually afforded sick leave benefits when they fell ill and needed them. How is this possible? Information about eligibility for this benefit was never provided to workers, and anyone who happened to find out that they actually had this right found it very hard to claim it. Here, too, a huge sum of money—about half a billion NIS—has accumulated in state coffers since funds were never disbursed for their intended purpose. Again, KLO petitioned the High Court to address this situation and return accumulated funds to workers. About a year after the petition was filed, the state announced that it had ended the requirement to allocate a portion of workers’ salaries to the sick leave fund, and had set up an inter-ministerial team to determine how best to distribute the 500,000,000 ILS that had accumulated in the state’s pocket. Finally, as of January 2019, Palestinian workers should receive sick pay directly from their employers and operation of the ailing sick leave fund has ceased. Hallelujah! However, the question remains—where will all this money go? 

Please click here to read KLO’s comprehensive March report on the status of Palestinian workers employed in Israel.
Pictured in photos: KLO Advocate Khaled Dukhi informing workers about their rights per the new reform at the Qalqilya checkpoint and Barkan industrial area.