A new study reveals that municipalities in Israel do not collect and document information on contract workers being employed under their jurisdiction.
By: Roni Livneh
A study by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, addressing the scope of contract worker employment by municipalities, was published recently. As part of the research, commissioned by MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor Party), tens of municipalities in Israel were asked to provide data on the scope of contract worker employment in their offices. The results are not encouraging, and while this should come as no surprise, the precise reasons may differ from our original expectations.
The unsuspecting reader may be surprised at the revelation that the most sweeping conclusion which followed the study is not directly related to new or surprising data on the number of contract workers in the public sector. Nor is it directly related to an expansion or a reduction in the scope of this phenomenon, or conversely, a trend of hiring groups of workers within a form of direct and fair employment in the offices within the public sector. The most sweeping conclusion attests to the insult being added to injury in the sad story of contract worker employment in Israel. It turns out that Israeli municipalities do not even collect and document information regarding contract worker employment under their jurisdiction. They also fail to establish reliable monitoring mechanisms or precise databases regarding those being employed within their own confines. Even more evident is the study’s conclusion that the overwhelming majority of these municipalities have failed to respond to requests by the Ministry of Interior, who is in charge of this function. These municipalities have produced various excuses rather than complete answers.
The Knesset’s Information Centre did try to take the needs of the municipalities into account, and due to the “difficulty of obtaining information” from small municipalities, it had to narrow the scope of its study and focus on large cities. The scope was narrowed yet again when the study turned to examine only employment in the fields of education, welfare, law, and engineering. In spite of all this, comprehensive responses failed to arrive, and with regards to the information which the researchers were able to obtain – the report is rife with claims and statements that the data may not even be credible and reliable. At the end of the day, except for two cities which provided an outstanding amount of information (Haifa and Rishon Letziyon), the other municipalities could not provide a comprehensive response to a fairly simple question – “who are the workers being employed under your authority?”
Frankly, the results of the study, with partial and evasive responses on behalf of the municipalities, have not come as a surprise to those familiar with this type of research. Vague and contradictory figures have been thrown into the air for years each time the question of contract worker employment comes up on the agenda; especially when this regards employees of the public sector. In fact, the phenomenon of failing to disclose information on contract worker employment in the public sector stems from two levels of “data manipulation” which eventually sustain the status quo, namely the continued exploitation of numerous workers in Israel.
The first level is addressed by the recent report, as well as numerous preceding documents. Public sector organs in the State of Israel do not gather, archive, process, or disclose information on contract worker employment. On the contrary, this information is explosive and of the type one would rather not tamper with, so as to avoid criticism and maintain the option of saying, “we didn’t know.” A permanent state of lack of data means that we can never obtain a complete figure attesting to the scope of indirect employment – which is the first step towards addressing the problem.
On the second level, institutions of the State are purposely relying on a narrow definition of contract workers, which does an injustice to the understanding of the entire phenomenon. In a study conducted at the request of MK Merav Michaeli (Labor Party) in the beginning of 2014, with the goal of obtaining data on all forms of indirect employment in the civil service, embarrassing and unreliable results were produced regarding the scope of this phenomenon. This study, similarly to the recent one, produced patently unreliable data. For example, according to it, there are only thirteen thousand contract workers employed directly by the State, and a few hundred additional “shoulder to shoulder” workers, while more comprehensive estimates put the number at hundreds of thousands.
The gap between the data from the study and these assessments stems to a great extent from the inconsistency in the definition of indirect employment in Israel. Thus for example, around 85% of the welfare services in Israel are privatized and these are being provided through non-governmental organs such as associations, non-profits, service providers, public benefit companies, private companies, and so on. However, by the definitions of the State and the studies of this matter, these workers are not defined as contract workers, and this is not justified. The same goes for school nurses, social workers, contract teachers and more. The study conducted at the request of MK Shmuli also states that, “There are forms of employment which not every municipality or unit director regard as indirect employment…There are numerous employees who are harder to classify and in some cases neither the authorities nor the employers nor perhaps the workers themselves perceive this employment as indirect employment by a municipality”.
It follows that before the Knesset’s Research Centre can even begin to examine the “scope of the phenomenon,” an attempt made from time to time without much success, one must examine who exactly are regarded as contract workers by the State. Are these indeed only those who are employed through human resources companies? Is every employee who is not directly employed necessarily a contract worker?
Only after the State manages to expand the definition of “contract workers,” as a term encompassing all indirect forms of employment, would it be possible to witness and recognize the true number of exploited workers in Israel. In addition, it is obvious that many years of recurring evasions by State authorities regarding accountability for the ways in which workers are employed under their jurisdiction, attest to a deliberate practice. The pretexts of “unobtainable info” are nothing but a fig leaf allowing for the continuation of the status quo – an artificial reduction in the scope of this phenomenon and the exploitation of workers, as the State turns a blind eye, all while evading the need for public accountability with respect to this improper conduct.
The writer is the spokesperson of Kav LaOved.
Translated by: Ofer Neiman