253 asylum seekers approached us before Lola, and 50 contacted us after her all with the same problem. 303 files all regarding the theft enabled by Israel’s Refugee/Asylum Seeker Deposit Law.
What is Israel’s Refugee/Asylum Seeker Deposit Law?
According to an amendment to the Foreign Workers Law, which came into force in May 2017, 20% of the wages of asylum seekers are deducted from their paycheck and are (in theory) supposed to be deposited into a state-run fund, reserved for the day they leave Israel. In practice, many employers are “forgetting” to deposit the money, after deducting it from the workers’ wages. Lola, like many others before and after her, discovered that the money deducted from her salary – 8,440.72 shekels – was simply kept by company for which she worked. She turned to Kav La’Oved and asked us to help straighten out the situation.
As we began to look over her paperwork, we realized the violations went much further. Apart from the fact that the employer blatantly stole the 20% of her wages (a theft enabled by the Deposit Law), he also failed to pay any of her other labor rights for the nearly two years she was employed there including: no pension, no convalescence pay, no compensation for vacation days, no severance. Basically nothing.
In total, the employer owed her 22,000 shekels!
Equipped with the calculations we did for her, Lola went back to her employer. They did not allow her to enter her room with her cellphone (so she could not record or take pictures) or to bring in her friend who had accompanied her making them wait outside. Inside the room, the employer made her sign a debt settlement for 8,000 NIS. Apparently, thinking that returning the 20% of her wages he had stolen was sufficient, keeping the remaining 440.72 of her wages himself – probably thinking he was owed “management fee” for having stolen the money. Not only that, the employer used the 20% of Lola’s wages he had stolen to pay against all the other rights he had failed to pay.
When Lola came back to Kav for further assistance, we turned to the cleaning company to figure out next steps, only to find out that as far as they were concerned the matter had been resolved. They decided that giving back the 20% of Lola’s wages they had stolen (minus their fee of course) was an acceptable resolution to the entire issue forgetting the rest they had never bothered to pay. And that they were no longer willing to hear from us again.
Angry and hurt on Lola’s behalf, we sent a complaint to the Ministry of Economy – asking for their intervention in the face of the theft, the illegal firing and the employer’s blatant attempt to evade any possible obligation. As we wait for their response, we wanted to share Lola’s story, one that we see repeating itself again and again.
Kav LaOved with Noa Kaufman will continue to fight against these outrageous and illegal violations of labor rights.