We need to talk about caregivers / Adv. Meytal Russo,  KLO's Caregivers Department Director
In these days, between International Women's Day and Passover, I would like to express some words of gratitude to the committed caregivers who come to work in Israel from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Romania, Nepal, Colombia, and other countries.
Caregivers are migrant workers who have come to Israel to provide for their families back home. They made huge debts in their countries of origin to pay exorbitant and illegal brokerage fees to dubious middlemen, just for the right to work here. As we are on the eve of the Festival of Freedom, we must talk about the fact that their dedication and work around the clock amount in practice to slavery-like conditios.
True, their work sustains their own families. But not just them. Their work also provides welfare to the families of our older people and people with disabilities. Caregivers separate from their families and cannot raise their children. Instead, they care for those we put aside, whose vulnerability is so present in these Covid times.  
These (mostly) women are true working-class heroines, even though most of them do not feel at all like heroines. Their hard, endless and underpaid work does not leave much room for a sense of heroism. But they are heroines. Here are a few examples of true heroism we have recently encountered at Kav LaOved.
M. came to Israel from the Philippines after her husband abandoned her and their two daughters. She left when the girls were just toddlers. She has worked here for 18 years. M. was diagnosed with cancer but continued to care for her employer while undergoing chemotherapy. Finally, when the prognosis became final, she flew home to share her last moments with her family.
D. from Sri Lanka has been subjected to repeated and continuous sexual harassment by her employer. After being ignored by the manpower company who handled her employment, she bravely decided to report her employer to the authorities. She knew that by doing so she will put an end to her work and stay in Israel: given the years she had already spent in Israel she would not be able to change to a new employer.
P. from India has not left her employer's home in a whole year, not even for a single day of rest. Her employer is unwilling to accept any other worker in her place. His children shrug their shoulders. As she is past the period in which she is allowed to change employer, P. continues working for her current employer without rest days of any sort.
E. from Ukraine left for a short vacation home and was unable to return to Israel because of COVID-19 related restrictions. When these restrictions were lifted the Israeli manpower company asked her to "settle matters" in Kiev in order to come back. "Settling matters" means paying illegal brokerage fees in addition to what she already paid when she first entered Israel. E. has courageously agreed to report to the authorities this extortion attempt.
When her employer's daughter found out she was pregnant,  L., a Filipina caregiver, was unlawfully forced to write a resignation letter. When L. reached "Kav LaOved" to try and secure  her rights and benefits, her employer's daughter lied, and discredited her and the care she offered her mother. L. is currently fighting for her rights in the Labor Tribunal.
A. is a worker from Moldova caring for a paralyzed bedridden older man. When his wife, who paid her  wages and social rights every month, passed away, A. stopped being paid. For three months she has continued taking care of her employer, asking for donations to buy food, medicine and diapers from Moldavian friends who work near her. The employer's only daughter lives abroad and refuses to cooperate. Even these days A. continues to take care of her employer without pay, in the hope that the recently appointed guardian will be able to pay her.
There is no end to the number of stories of heroism we hear every day at Kav LaOved. But there is no heroism without struggle. And we also need to talk about the struggle.
We need to talk about how over the last decades we have created an exploitative and abusive employment model, just because we can. It's hard to admit it, after all we all have/had/may have family members cared for by migrant caregivers. But this is the reality. A caregiver may be considered part of the family (the part that irons and folds the laundry) and yet we expect from her what we, free people, would never sign up to for ourselves.
We need to talk about the fact that 24-hour availability for work, six days a week, paid the minimum wage intended for a 42 weekly hours, is not reasonable for any worker.
We need to talk about those caregivers who give up their weekly rest day to work seven days a week, because they must return the huge debts they made to pay illegal brokerage fees.
We need to talk about the fact that many employers do not allow caregivers to go out for a few hours, to relax, even though the caregiver really needs it. And when they finally go out for a few hours, these are reduced from their annual leave.
We need to talk about the invasion of privacy into caregivers' life, including their love life: according to Population and Immigration Authority rules, migrant workers are not allowed to have romantic relationship with other migrant workers in Israel.
We need to talk about the geographic restrictions on where caregivers are allowed to work, and the limitation in the number of times a caregiver can resign.
We need to talk about the fact that this employment model stems from the State's need to control caregivers and employers. About the State's desire to kick out of the country these "family members" as soon as they are sick, in a relationship, or when their employer dies and the family has not paid their benefits. Your time is up - now please leave and do not bother our Jewish (and democratic) State.
We need to talk about the huge profits that manpower and placement companies make out of this form of employment.
The immense anxiety and worry children have for their old parents is understandable to all of us. Only recently I heard some employers who were angry because caregivers “interviewed them” during the Corona period. They felt humiliated because a caregiver chose another employer over them. They were also upset for not being able to bring a new caregiver from abroad, one who would have probably worked hard “out of gratitude for being brought over." I sat in a meeting where these things were said and smiled a bitter smile.  My heart went out to these people in need. But at the same time I felt how these expressions indicated an internalized sense of entitlement, generated and supported by both official regulations and the general mindset. Who is this Filipina or Moldovan who will decide where to work? Why is she even allowed to choose?
Dr. Irit Porat, a veteran volunteer at Kav LaOved, wrote her doctoral dissertation on the subject. She is now finalizing her new book "A stranger taking care of mother" where she writes:
In my opinion, the most prominent expression of otherness …. is in the individual and collective perception that a migrant worker is available 24 hours a day (this is what is promised and consequently, expected); that she does not need breaks or leisure time; that she does not have to take annual leave; that "it's like that with them"; that she can be separated from her family for many years; that she can bear the weight of a heavy patient because "she has a technique".  Things which are clearly not right or appropriate for us are perceived as being fine for a migrant worker. The blindness of people to the needs of their caregiver stems from the perception that the migrant worker is different. This "othering" is supported by the authorities (including the Ministry of the Interior and the courts), private agencies (manpower agencies, for example), public opinion and the media. Even perceptions that are, ostensibly, positive, such as "caregiving is natural for her ", "this is her culture", "they know how to respect older people", "they have patience", stem from the same place, from their perception as others.
This "otherness" originates and is fueled by the manpower companies' huge profits as
well as the State's need to control migrant workers. The Population and Immigration Authority call them "nationals (of other countries)" or "foreign workers", terms which underline again a divisive worldview.
Until we will release the shackle of work around the clock, and until we will perceive our heroic caregivers as human beings equal to us - we will continue to encourage slavery. Mostly of women, hidden from view, at the extreme margins of society. We at Kav LaOved see this every day in our work. We must warn about it, and work together with caregivers and employers to change this situation. After all, we have not become free for nothing.