By Noa Kaufman, Coordinator of Asylum Seeker and Refugee Workers
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill last week banning African migrants from sending money or assets abroad during their stay in Israel. Additionally, the Committee stated that an African migrant leaving Israel can only take with him an amount not exceeding twice the minimum wage for the amount of years working in Israel. Apart from the difficult ethical problems arising from this decision, which in fact states that Israel can confiscate money from migrants, the entire labor market will be severely hurt by this decision, and as usual the first to bear the burden will be disadvantaged workers.
Today, many asylum seekers are working in sectors where the conditions are so poor that Israelis do not work these positions and instead Israel imports workers from the “third world.” These jobs are known in professional literature as the three D’s: dirty, dangerous, and demeaning. Because asylum seekers began to arrive in Israel in large numbers since 2006, some gained experience in their work and their wages have increased over the years. However, they still work primarily in sectors in which the wages are relatively low and it is not uncommon for workers to earn 25 shekels per hour or more. Additionally, because asylum seekers work in sectors with low wages, all of them work overtime or find another job. We meet workers who work ten, twelve, or more hours a day, often without a day off. Clearly, these workers accrue more than the minimum wage and will want to take these earnings with them when they leave the country.
The basic labor laws are inconsistent with this bill, as every worker in Israel, regardless of status, is entitled to receive compensation in lieu of unused vacation, severance pay and pension. Even workers earning at least minimum wage, upon leaving the country, deserve to receive compensation for unpaid wages, damages and social rights, making the sum greater than the amount this law will permit. Equal employment and equal use of money is in the interest of all workers in Israel. A population that, according to the law, should earn less than others will be preferred by employers who want to save costs and avoid hiring Israelis who will demand their rights. In fact, these draconian state laws continue to serve the employers rather than the workers.
About a year ago when hundreds of asylum seekers were deported to South Sudan and the Ivory Coast, Israel’s main interest was to have these groups leave as soon as possible, and workers who requested compensation from their employers in accordance with the labor law were imprisoned and deported without being able to exercise that right. Many employers were fair enough to give their employees their money as quickly as possible, but unfortunately many employers were equally happy that the country made it possible for them not to pay their workers. This internalized the idea that it is preferable to hire people eligible for deportation, because someday the state may assist employers in removing one “cheap” worker and quickly replacing him/her with another.
The phenomenon of migrants and asylum seekers from Africa is a serious issue that requires comprehensive consideration that is sensitive and relevant. Demagogic bills such as this one end up hurting the most disadvantaged segments of society, which continues due to the government’s lack of a coherent immigration policy.