Over 100,000 Palestinians come daily to work in Israel going twice a day through lengthy checkpoint crossings which requires them to leave home before down and return well after sundown. Their work permits are linked to a specific employer, which limits their ability to claim their rights and results in high illegal brokerage fees. In addition, they are required to make unreasonable deposits to be able to press charges against their employer in court. Their pension and sick leave benefits often remain unpaid. Following a Kav LaOved High Court of Justice petition, in December 2020 the state announced a reform of its model of employment for Palestinians: Palestinians working in the construction sector will be issued with a sector-wide work permit rather than one tied to their employer. This is a critical step toward eliminating brokerage fees. Palestinians working in other areas, such as agriculture or industry, will however continue working according to the employer-based permit model.
Who We Help
- Palestinians from the West Bank employed in Israel with work permits
- Palestinians from the West Bank employed in Israel without work permits
Problems Faced by Workers
Although legislation passed early in the history of the State of Israel mandated that Palestinian workers participating in the Israeli labor market are legally mandated to the same labor protections as Israeli workers, in practice this has not been the case. One of the key issues facing Palestinian workers, particularly those in construction, is that of paying illegal brokerage fees for a permit to work in Israel. A Bank of Israel report published in 2019 estimated that about 30% of Palestinians working with a permit in Israel paid illegal brokerage fees and conservatively estimated revenues from the sale of permits at 480 million ILS annually. On average, the report estimated that these fees amount to 20% of a worker’s gross monthly income, although our work with Palestinians has shown that the cost can be as high as half their monthly salary. Workers are required to pay this monthly fee regardless of how many days they work or if they become ill and are unable to work.
Although Palestinians working in Israel and in settlements are protected by Israeli labor law, many are unaware of their rights and have few outlets for obtaining information or training on the law. Accessing benefits can be very difficult as workers are confronted with a bureaucratic tangle of confusing requirements, red tape and lack of information. In addition, the Jordan Rift Valley Regulations implemented by the Ministry of Justice, require every non-Israeli resident plaintiff to pay a steep deposit when pressing charges against their employer in labor court, which restricts Palestinians’ access to the court system. As a result of these conditions, Palestinians often report unpaid wages and benefits, long work hours with no overtime and unsafe work conditions. They also experience unduly long commute times to and from work, often leaving home at four or five in the morning, to accommodate for the time required to pass through checkpoints, many of which were built to handle a much lower volume of traffic and are in need of updates.
KLO in Action
Informing Workers About Their Rights
KLO maintains an Arabic language Facebook page, where we regularly post updated labor law information, digital labor rights leaflets, as well as video tutorials on topics relevant to Palestinians working in Israel. We also post labor rights leaflets in Arabic on our website.
KLO staff hold workshops on Israeli labor for workers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The workshops educate workers on topics such as how to read a payslip, pension rights, rights when involved in a work accident, sick leave, overtime and annual leave.
KLO staff also regularly visit checkpoints in the evening as workers were returning home to distribute pamphlets on labor rights and to answer questions about attaining these rights. In addition, KLO was active through Arabic language media outlets, both TV and radio, to provide interviews highlighting the rights of Palestinians working in Israel.
KLO holds reception hours in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to provide in-person consultations and assistance in attaining their labor rights. KLO also advocates for East Jerusalem and West Bank workers, by issuing complaints to the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health, the National Insurance Institute of Israel as well as the Population and Immigration Authority’s (PIBA) Payment Department, which transfers salary and benefits payment to Palestinians on behalf of Israeli employers.
Improving management of Palestinians’ pension fund. Palestinian contributions to the retirement insurance fund are made through payment by the employer and through deductions from the worker’s salary. However, the money historically had not been managed as a pension fund and workers were often unaware of the way it was handled; in most cases, they never received their pensions. After KLO petitioned the HCJ on this issue, the state reformed the fund and established a professional pension fund management independent of PIBA to run the fund and publish rules and procedures for the fund in Arabic. The petition was resolved in September 2020 and the fund is now set to provide Palestinian workers with the pension benefits to which they are entitled.
Protecting Palestinians’ contributions to their sick leave fund. For years, Palestinians could only receive sick leave pay if they contacted the PIBA payment unit and, as a result, only 1.5%-2% received their sick pay by KLO estimates. In 2016, KLO issued a petition to the High Court addressing this issue and, thanks to KLO advocacy, the state now pays sick leave directly to the workers. However, the fund eventually accumulated over 500 million ILS in workers’ unused sick leave payments. KLO continues to advocate for better management of the fund and disbursement of the accumulated funds to Palestinian workers under the ongoing petition. To date, KLO has successfully advocated against proposals to use the accumulated funds for checkpoint upgrades and the transfer of 250 million ILS in accumulated monies to Israeli employers
Reforming Israeli employment mechanisms for Palestinians. In order to work legally in Israel, Palestinians are required to obtain a work permit, which up until now has been linked to a specific Israeli employer. This system has resulted in Palestinians being forced to navigate illegal employment arrangements on the black market. Middle men in Israel and the OPT have emerged who demand exorbitant illegal brokerage fees from workers to connect them to Israeli employers seeking to hire Palestinians. Furthermore, many employers do not utilize all of their allotted work permits and then illegally sell these extra, unused permits to workers who then seek work from an employer who does not have permission to hire Palestinian workers and thus become ensnared in enforcement efforts and exploitation along the way. Overall, the current regimen effectively binds Palestinian workers to Israeli employers since work permits are assigned to specific employers, making it hard for workers to refuse unsafe work conditions and virtually impossible to change employers in response to an unsafe work environment.
Following a September petition to the High Court of Justice submitted by Kav LaOved, the Israeli government finally released its new policy, promised since 2016, in which Palestinian workers will be issued sector-wide work permits instead of employer-based work permits. While there are limitations to this reform, it offers an important foundation for further advocacy to reform the employment framework for Palestinians by addressing a key barrier to their fair and dignified employment and KLO is working to monitor its implementation and push for additional changes needed to ensure this policy effectively protects Palestinian workers.
Labour Trafficking. While the issue of labour trafficking has been discussed in the context of migrant workers employed in Israel, it has long been ignored in the context of Palestinian workers despite the fact that it is in ongoing problem. KLO has taken a lead role in raising awareness of this issue through contributions to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report as well as advocating with the Israeli government to address this phenomenon, particularly through the National Plan to Combat Trafficking. Advocacy efforts led to the creation of a sub-committee to address trafficking of Palestinian workers. ADD INK TO OUR TRAFFICKING PAGE
Media advocacy. Many of the key issues addressed in KLO’s advocacy work received good coverage. A November article in Haaretz, for example, highlighted the High Court’s move to freeze the transfer of 250 ILS in monies from the Palestinian sick leave fund to Israeli employers. The article highlighted KLO and ACRI’s petition regarding the sick leave fund and the issues at stake. An October Haaretz article (see here for article in English) publicized the fact that Palestinian workers often have to pay exorbitant fees for permits to work in Israel and helped push the issue to the public’s attention.
Mainstreaming labor rights. We reach out to Israeli governmental bodies such as the Ministry of Health, the Population and Immigration Authority (including the payment department), the National Insurance Institute and the Ministry of Labor among others. Our advocacy efforts also include contacting private sector actors, such as companies and employers, as well as healthcare providers (kupat holim) to push for the rights of Palestinians. KLO trains NGOs working with Palestinians on Israeli labor law and advises international bodies such as the ILO on the status of Palestinians working in Israel. We also meet with Palestinian Authority bodies, such as the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Justice, to provide information about Israeli labor law and identify ways to support Palestinian workers.