In April 2021, the 24th Knesset was sworn in. After long months of stagnation, during which the Israeli parliament waited for the voter's decision and committees were at a stand-still – the new Knesset’s work was finally under way.  We gathered the materials we’ve been collecting, penned a position-paper on selected topics, and appeared before various Knesset committees, particularly the Labor and Welfare Committee and the Special Committee for Foreign Workers, where we served as a voice for migrant workers, and presented the structural issues in their employment terms that must be addressed and resolved. Now, a moment before we bid farewell to 2021, we would like to keep you up to date on our work with lawmakers and government ministries.
Modern Labor market
  • Workers' Hotline's insights on the memorandum on the bill for Israel’s economic recovery were recently sent to the Ministry of Labor and Industry, including a recommendation to withdraw the duties on the employment of foreign workers, which are currently charged from employers of non-Israeli workers, but to keep it in place for one type of workers: migrant workers who are not employed through a bilateral agreement –  i.e. construction sector laborers employed through foreign placement companies; foreigners employed under  a "foreign expert" visa, and foreign workers expected to be recruited to the manufacturing sector. In the current state of affairs, these duties hurt the workers who serve as a local workforce – including asylum seekers, spouses of Israeli citizens, trafficking victims, humanitarian visa holders, etc.– but does not serve to eliminate the employment of workers whose employment is most harmful, such as foreign workers who pay brokerage fees with black money thereby creating false demand.
  • The Knesset's Labor and Welfare Committee had convened to discuss regulating Israel’s digital platform economy, also known as the "digital gig economy". The nature of the employment in question relies on freelancers or indirect employment by labor agencies, and the issue has recently gained attention following the heated global discussion on the implications of the growth of the digital platform economy on the labor market, labor relations and workers' rights. As the labor rights that are affected by the digital platform economy are many and varied, ACRI has led a move to map the model, and together we formulated a position paper, which was submitted to the Committee alongside operational recommendations for the dramatic improvement of the model. 
Occupational health
  • Although the health of many workers, in Israel and abroad, is compromised due to their work conditions, the issue of occupational health is not seriously addressed on a systemic level, not to mention solutions. Since this is a widespread, disturbing and alarming phenomenon that remains under the radar, so to speak, Workers’ Hotline held a conference in early December with the participation of past and present professionals and policymakers. The speakers expressed their willingness to revisit the issues addressed and formulate operational responses, and we shall be there to accompany them in the process.
  • A discussion held at the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee dealt with work-related accidents in the construction sector and the Ministry's plans to address the issue. Ahead of the discussion, we drafted a position paper presenting up-to-date data, calling for increased enforcement and a change in systemic attitudes toward work-related accidents, i.e. the investigation of work related accidents resulting in moderate to severe injuries while shutting down the work site pending the findings; the improvement of the Peles unit investigations and an increase of their workforce; streamlining the work of the Contractor’s Registrar; Investigation of work accidents beyond the Green Line and the implementation of the agreement signed between the Ministry of Finance and the Histadrut in November 2018. 
Foreign Construction Corporation
  • A particularly outrageous discussion took place in the special committee for foreign workers in early October, which concerned the employment of construction workers by foreign corporations. These corporations are bringing in workers from China and Turkey while trampling the workers' rights, and so far the state claimed that contracting with them is essential for the purpose of lowering housing prices. Not only that this claim has no base, but during the discussion, Nathaniel Lapidot from the Ministry of Construction revealed the true reason to contract with the company Yilmazlar: "There was a government agreement, of Turkish tanks in Israel, and something had to be bought from Turkey. The amount of pistachios that could be bought from Turkey was limited, it's not needed anymore, so they said "We will bring workers to Israel, give them a job and then they will send money to Turkey"" (From the protocol of the committee, 5.10.2021). Adv. Michal Tadjer from Kav LaOved answered him.
Palestinian workers
  • Illegal trade in work permits in Israel has long since become rampant and a well-known phenomenon, and although it is based on theft, fraud and serious tax offenses – no one is seeking and arresting the perpetrators. At the end of October, the Special Committee for Foreign Workers convened to discuss the distribution of a phone app that connects Palestinian workers to Israeli employers, aiming to (hopefully) eradicate the work permit black market, which is thriving due to the difficulty of Palestinian workers in locating employers by themselves. Workers’ Hotline position on the matter was represented at the hearing by Adv. Michal Tadjer, who referred to the two-year-old reform, which does not yield dramatic changes, and presented the cumulative failures in the State's handling of the employment mechanisms of Palestinian workers in Israel. 
Agriculture workers
  • According to a survey conducted by Worker’s Hotline among foreign workers in the agricultural sector, some 93% of the participants report work-related health issues, mostly stemming from contact with pesticides, resulting in skin problems, respiratory issues, eye irritation and abdominal pain. In light of these disturbing findings, Adv. Michal Tadjer and Adv. Orit Ronen contacted the Minister of Labor and Industry, MK Orna Barbibai and Deputy Minister MK Yair Golan, demanding they urgently increase the enforcement and supervision in this sector. 
  • The Special Committee on Foreign Workers convened on November 16 and held a session dedicated to migrant workers in the agriculture sector. The sector’s prevalent  work-related issues were presented to the committee, as mapped by our organization based on hundreds of inquiries from workers suffering from particularly harsh employment and living conditions. We demanded the following: better enforcement of labor laws in light of the flagrant violations on part of employers; the resolution of the situation in which workers are in effect bound to their employers; in depth overhaul of labor safety and prevention of work-related injuries and medical conditions; and withdrawal of permits in cases of sub-standard employment conditions. Mr. Evyatar Shamir of Physicians for Human Rights presented to the committee the health report in the agriculture sector, authored in collaboration with Workers’ Hotline, and addressed the dangerous use of pesticides, without supervision and proper guidance, and the limitations of medical insurance for migrant workers – which does not cover serious illnesses and mental health services. 
  • A survey conducted two years ago shows that nearly half of the migrant workers in the agriculture sector reported emotional distress, which left untreated, resulted in panic attacks, psychotic episodes, cases of violence and suicide. Despite these grave figures, more than 100,000 migrant workers in Israel are not entitled to mental health care. It would seem that Israel,  so eager to exploit the bodies of workers, attributes little importance to their mental wellbeing. At an October hearing of the Knesset Foreign Workers Committee, which addressed the untreated problem of sexual assault among female and male migrant workers, a representative of the Ministry of Health noted that the Minister of Health, Nitzan Horowitz, is in favor of adding mental health care services to the basket of services to which migrant workers are entitled. In order to implement this long-awaited change, we, together with Physicians for Human Rights, approached a number of senior officials in the Ministry of Health and demanded swift action to amend the order. Foreign workers come to Israel and are employed in the most difficult and taxing jobs in the economy – caring for the elderly and for people with disabilities, or working long hours in construction and agriculture. In view of the inherent power inequality between them and their employers, which often serves as fertile ground for exploitation and abuse, mental health care is like oxygen to these workers.
  • Although on the face of it, Israel seeks to eliminate the practice of charging brokerage fees from work immigrants as a condemnable practice that generates millions of dollars on the backs of the workers, attempts to charge indirect fees are still widespread.  This time the issue is regulations published by the Labor Department of the Ministry of Economy, which aimed to regulate the payments that caregiving agencies can charge workers around the time of the implementation of the bilateral agreement in the sector. Since the proposed arrangement also seeks to allow collection from workers who arrive without a bilateral agreement (!), and includes fees paid at the country of origin as well as a monthly payment to Israeli agencies, Workers’ Hotline sent comments on these regulations, which are expected to yield the agencies some NIS 7,000 per worker. We foresee additional brokerage fees charge from the workers who arrive without a bilateral agreement, digging them into further debt, and that the high monthly amount does not guarantee the improvement of the service. 
This list is far from exhaustive with regard to the nature of issues we deal with, and does not reflect the full scale of the problems mentioned therein. As the current Knesset is still taking its first steps and lawmakers are still in the process of learning the ins and outs of their work, we insist on being there to answer their questions, share with them the stories of the migrant workers and help draft a fairer map of the economy.

The calendar year is ending today. Despite the many challenges in 2021, we were able to help thousands of vulnerable workers and to successfully advocate for a more just labor environment in Israel. We also celebrated our 30th anniversary, and are pleased to share with you the video “Kav LaOved: 30 Years of Activism”  which we hope you will enjoy.
Next year presents us with no fewer challenges, but also with concrete opportunities. In the Kav LaOved tradition, we will do our best, and more, to ensure that no one gets left behind.
We look forward to having you by our side again in 2022, and wish you a Happy and Fulfilling New Year.
With best regards,
Kav LaOved’s staff