By Noa Kaufman, Coordinator of Asylum Seeker and Refugee Workers
Rachel (alias) is a young asylum seeker who escaped from Eritrea to Israel and has been working at an Ulpana (religious girls’ high school) in the center of Israel. Every morning she would arrive at the Ulpana and begin cleaning the dining hall, for 9-10 hours a day for an hourly pay of 25 NIS. As the Ulpana was closed for the summer, Rachel was asked to go on unpaid leave. In September, as she returned to her job, she was told she now works under a new manager. What no one told her was that the company that was in charge of operating the dining hall had been replaced with a contract company. And so, without her knowledge or approval, she became a contract worker and her seniority was erased.
During that period Rachel became pregnant. Just like all other asylum seekers in Israel, she is not entitled to health and social services from the state. Her entitlement to health insurance – which allows her to have routine pregnancy checks – comes from her employers’ required payments to private insurance as well as the National Insurance Institute.
Rachel didn’t imagine that she’d be fired from the place she had been working for for so long immediately after telling her employers of her pregnancy. After consulting with friends and family she found out that the Israeli law protects pregnant women from being fired, and she was referred to Kav LaOved. As we went over the pay slips she presented, she was amazed to find out about being transferred to the contract company and about losing all seniority. In fact, due to her not having her seniority, she was excluded from the law that protects women from being fired while pregnant, as it only applies to women who have been working in the same job for over six months.
Not only did Rachel lose her income, but her medical insurance was taken away at the moment she needed it most. Even worse is that her entitlement to a birth grant that covers the cost of hospitalization during childbirth and three months maternity leave was also taken away. We at Kav LaOved are now working to demand the Ulpana to abide by the law, take responsibility and actively work to undo her firing.
Rachel is not alone; in 2013, 187 women asylum seekers came to Kav LaOved for assistance regarding getting their benefits from employers, 25 of them were fired due to pregnancy. The Employment of Women Law, that includes a set of rules protecting women at their jobs, was legislated with the thought that women are discriminated against at the workplace and are more vulnerable than men. All the more so women who are not citizens, and are living in Israel under a temporary status that stretches for many years and does not entitle them with any rights. We must remember that we are talking about women who, for the most part, do not know the language and law, and are therefore even more vulnerable.
These days Kav LaOved is conducting a survey among women asylum seekers that is meant to examine their employment patterns in Israel, as to understand the unique issues facing this community, and offer appropriate solutions within the labor market. In addition, in the last year we have been working to provide Information and training to women refugees, to increase the circle of women who know us and come to us for assistance, and hope that in 2014 there will be meaningful progress in application of labor laws to all workers.
We hope this will be the last year in which we do not note progress and equality in refugee women’s work conditions.