Let’s start with a story. Iris Bar, Manager of KLO’s Haifa office, was approached by a group of Ethiopian Israeli women. They told her that their employer, who runs an employment agency, had withheld their last salary payment. Iris picked up the phone and asked the employer, “So, do you only employ Ethiopian Israeli women?” To which the employer replied, “What the hell!? Everyone works for me—Ethiopians, Russians, Arabs …” “If that’s the case,” she asked, “do you only not pay the Ethiopian women?” The employer perked up and replied, “God forbid, what the hell?! You think I’m a racist?” 

This story is part of everyday life at KLO’s Haifa branch, which Iris has led with dedication for 15 years. We decided to devote the current newsletter to goings on in the office. Workers come by from the north of the country and the periphery, and the Haifa team of volunteers tries to answer all their questions patiently. You can spot Amir and Geraldine, trying to bridge the language gap with these diverse workers, including caregivers from East Asia, to provide them with accurate calculations of their owed wages and benefits. Eyal and Ora manage to keep their cool even when faced with the most difficult employers. And Nurit, a retired CPA, helps to check the payslips of Israeli hourly workers to clarify if their rights have been violated and, if so, what should be demanded of their employer. Yoav, Iris’s partner, is a computer programmer and he has built a sophisticated rights calculator for KLO that crunches the numbers and shows what workers should get. Iris has even managed to engage her son in volunteering at the office! 

KLO’s Haifa branch serves low-income workers, many of whom don’t know what rights they deserve or are unable to attain their rights. They share many instances of abusive layoffs, extreme labor violations and other injustices. The Haifa team supports immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union; older persons whose family relies on them for support; and young people who are discovering that the labor market is not at all friendly for those who don’t know the law. Most workers come by word of mouth and the burden is tremendous.


Many workers coming to Haifa are employed via subcontract in cleaning and security companies. Iris says that “while I understand the logic of this kind of employment when it comes to providing services to small businesses, such as construction sites or bars, who need just one security guard and can't conduct the needed training, weapons tests etc., I do not see any justification for this kind of employment at large workplaces such as established restaurant chains, municipalities, government offices or universities". 

It's difficult for subcontract workers to get the pay and benefits they deserve for several reasons. One, contractors usually form a chain of employment---meaning a contractor subcontracts to another subcontractor who subcontracts to another and so on. This problematic employment form has become a scourge on the labor market. The companies frequently disappear, fall apart, don’t answer the phone or email etc., It’s very difficult to reach them when you need them.  Secondly, the bids which these contractors/subcontractors submit to open tenders are often not actually profitable or even viable in reality, and the state hasn’t yet found an effective mechanism to ensure that the contractor/subcontractor will indeed pay their workers according to the law during the course of their project. The state does not enforce sanctions against delinquent contractors who submit unrealistic bids and roll the costs onto their workers. Without a clear framework for delineating fair employment and without adequate oversight, the Haifa team is forced to take on an oversight role, reminding employers of their legal obligations toward their employees—especially in those cases where a contractor goes out of business.

 In addition to overseeing KLO’s overall assistance to workers in Haifa, for the last three years Iris has also managed a joint project with the Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEJ) to raise awareness among Ethiopian Israeli workers regarding their rights at work. Iris has presented in person at community centers serving Ethiopian Israelis in Be’er Sheva, Afula and Safed and has also presented online to provide relevant information about Israeli labor law and answer workers’ questions. The presentation was so popular, that workers keep coming, calling, writing and inviting Iris to spread the word :) 

Thanks for reading and for caring!

Kav LaOved