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Caregivers

Caregivers

60,000 caregivers are currently employed in Israel, 80% of whom are female. Approximately 50,000 have a caregiving work permit; all migrant caregivers were originally sought out by the State of Israel, and entered the country legally with a work visa. Most of the undocumented workers lost their status due to regulations of the Ministry of the Interior, or due to their employer and/or manpower company’s failure to arrange their visas properly and legally. About half of caregivers brought to Israel are from the Philippines, around 15% from Nepal, 10% from India, 10% from Sri Lanka, 10% from Moldova, and the rest from various Eastern European countries.

 

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Caregivers

60,000 caregivers are currently employed in Israel, 80% of whom are female. Approximately 50,000 have a caregiving work permit; all migrant caregivers were originally sought out by the State of Israel, and entered the country legally with a work visa. Most of the undocumented workers lost their status due to regulations of the Ministry of the Interior, or due to their employer and/or manpower company’s failure to arrange their visas properly and legally. About half of caregivers brought to Israel are from the Philippines, around 15% from Nepal, 10% from India, 10% from Sri Lanka, 10% from Moldova, and the rest from various Eastern European countries.

Background

The Caregiver Law from 1984 was meant to provide elderly people, who had low to intermediate need for care and treatment, assistance for a specific number of hours a day. These elderly people had relatively low dependence on caregivers, as opposed to those who needed long and continuous care, who were admitted into nursing institutions with government funding, or were cared for by Israeli nurses and caregivers at home in shifts. These Israeli workers received high hourly wages.

The first migrant caregivers to arrive in Israel were Filipinos, brought by the Defense Ministry to care for handicapped IDF veterans in their homes. Throughout the years, elderly civilians also began requesting permits to hire caregivers to care for them at home. In the beginning, only those with means were able to afford hiring a full-time caregiver, but as the caregivers’ wages began to decrease each year, elderly people with relatively low incomes also began requesting permits to employ migrant caregivers.

It seemed as though this was a win-win situation: elderly people remained in their homes and communities, their families were freed from having to care for them for long hours, and the migrant caregivers could make a living and improve their families’, as well as their own, living conditions. As the caregivers lived with the employer, it seemed as though the workers were able to save living expenses, which increased their savings.

But with time, more and more occurrences of exploitation began to surface: complaints of violence, sexual harassment, working all day without rest, caring for the family members living with the patient, and more. With the spread of the around-the-clock employment system, patients who needed intensive, non-stop care all day long began to receive hiring permits. This was followed by incidents of psychiatric hospitalization of caregivers being treated for depression and nervous breakdowns. The number of complaints of exploitation against employers increased.

Meanwhile, caregivers’ labor rights were being completely ignored; governmental authorities did not enforce protection laws which regulate payment for overtime, rest hours and vacation, weekly rest, social rights, etc.

Today, after these issues had been brought to public attention and have been discussed within the Israeli legal system, the Israeli government’s actions via legislation, procedures and regulations continue to negatively affect the employment conditions of migrant workers. Employing a caregiver around the clock, 24 hours a day, is now perceived as the only possible option when it comes to caregiving. Patients and their families have become more and more dependent on migrant caregivers, who are often not only forced to work 24 hours a day, but in many cases seven days a week, with no rest for months. Furthermore, there are restrictions regarding workers’ annual leave, visits to their home countries and sometimes even sick leave, all under the justification that the patient needs the caregiver at all hours of the day and cannot adjust to any kind of change in their treatment.

Main Problems

Illegal brokerage fees: As life expectancy has increased along with the elderly population, the number of caregivers being brought to Israel has grown each year as well. Since there is no quota for caregivers in Israel, any person in need of assistance can receive a permit to employ a caregiver from abroad.

The lack of bilateral trade agreements (which ensure maintenance of interests of both the country of origin and the state of Israel) creates a broken market, in which manpower companies profit at the expense of migrants. According to a 2012 Kav LaOved survey of over 800 caregivers, all of them paid “mediation fees,” illegal brokerage fees, in exchange for an Israeli work visa, averaging $8,400. Workers who came to Israel from Sri Lanka in 2012 report paying fees of about $10,000 for women, and $15,000 for men. On average, a caregiver in Israel works for a year and a half to two years in order to pay back the money they borrowed in their country of origin to pay for the fees.

More than 100 Israeli manpower companies are in charge of bringing about 5,000 caregivers to Israel every year. The brokerage fees are paid in cash, are unreported, and total almost 40 million dollars of unreported income per year. This means that approximately 160 million NIS comes into Israel and is not reported to the authorities. During the first year or two of work in Israel, the worker makes no money, but rather transfers their salary directly to repayment of debts created by the brokerage fees. This situation causes exploitation, also known as debt bondage, of workers, who greatly fear losing their jobs and not being able to pay back the money they owe. This includes incidents of severe exploitation or even physical harm.

Payment and social rights: The majority of complaints in the caregiving field have to do with receiving payment and social rights; main grievances include withheld payment and lack of pension, compensation for holidays, vacation, recuperation, and other social rights. These issues are mostly solved by appealing directly to the employer or the manpower company.

Unpaid Pension: Recently, more complaints have been filed against the employer and/or manpower company regarding unpaid pension. Sometimes this occurs because the employer is unaware of the worker’s right to receive pension payments (or is directed by the manpower company not to pay). Often, however, the employer does not agree with the concept of paying for the pension of the worker, who has not yet reached retirement age. Due to previous instruction by the Ministry of Economy, employers and manpower companies claim they should only have to pay when the worker leaves Israel, and therefore they postpone payment. When workers are actually about to leave Israel, they cannot locate past employers, and thus leave without receiving the money they are entitled to.

Employment in Unauthorized Conditions: Many complaints are made regarding employment that does not comply with the criteria the Ministry of Interior set for permit holders (the employers), such as work that does not have to do with caregiving, working for people other than the patient with the permit, cleaning and household work, working continuously for long hours with no breaks and working in harsh physical conditions that lead to compromised health. In these incidents, Kav LaOved requests that the Ministry of Interior revoke the permits, but these requests are often not met.

Main Achievements

In December 2012, the replacement visa for caregivers was released, including all comments and revisions made by Kav LaOved after originally suggesting the idea in 2010.  The visa is for caregivers who have been in Israel for over 51 months and who are seeking work in the interim period until they are forced to leave the country at 63 months. Often caregivers wish to go on holiday, with their employer’s support, but no temporary replacement can be found for the caregiver. This visa will provide a mutually beneficial solution for workers and employers.

In May 2012, after years of efforts to extend the “preparation for departure period” (the amount of time allowed to migrant workers after they finish working in Israel in order to claim their rights and make preparations for departure), the length of the period was extended from 30 to 60 days. Past experiences have shown that the 30 day “preparation for departure period” was not nearly long enough for workers to consult with Kav LaOved and initiate appropriate legal action, in addition to preparations to leave the country.

In February 2012, the Jerusalem District Court convicted a married couple, employers of a Filipino woman, of holding her in their home under slavery conditions. This case was originally handled by Kav LaOved. Though there was an indictment, an unprecedented ruling in Israel, the employers were only sentenced to only four months of community service (June 2012).

In April 2011, the High Court handed down its decision in a petition Kav LaOved filed over six years ago, together with other civil society organizations, challenging the constitutionality of the Israeli government “procedure for the handling of a pregnant migrant worker.” The previous procedure forced pregnant workers to choose between termination of employment or sending the baby abroad in order to qualify for visa renewal. The High Court ruled that the procedure is “harming the worker’s constitutional right to parenthood” and ordered it cancelled.

In August 2010, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) acknowledged migrant workers’ right to visit their home country during their period of work in Israel, after efforts by Kav LaOved, the Association for Civil Rights and Koach LaOvdim. This update of the inter-visa procedure allows migrant workers to visit their home country even when they are not employed and even if the manpower company refuses to authorize their visit.

In March 2006, a High Court of Justice ruling cancelled the binding agreement, which conditioned workers’ visas on working for a specific employer and did not allow for transferring between employers.

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