We would be grateful for any contributions to help us protect workers’ rights in these difficult times.Dear friends and partners
I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones well and safe amidst the current COVID-19 situation. We at KLO are working to adapt to the changing situation and maintain our support to workers now more than ever. Although it is too early to identify the full impact addressing the virus will have on the economy, it is already clear that the most disadvantaged workers, and especially those who are not unionized, will be affected. Thousands of workers are losing their jobs: hourly workers are being laid off, refugees and asylum seekers are losing positions in the restaurant and hospitality sector and Palestinian workers employed in Israel are restricted and cannot enter for work, to name just a few examples.
The most vulnerable workers are without safety nets and their rights are not being protected. On a broader level, the government seems to under-prioritize the interests of marginalized workers. While the interests of stronger and unionized sectors are taken into account, the marginalization of vulnerable Israelis, migrants, refugees and Palestinians is becoming further entrenched. On the backdrop of this harsh situation, the Ministry of Labor notified us that they are ending grant funding for the online and phone support we provide to workers—the very services we are using the most right now. We are taking steps to address this situation as described later in this letter and, in the meantime, are working to ensure ongoing support to workers in this time when they need us most.
In the context of the COVID-19 response, we have reorganized our work in order to continue assisting workers without holding face-to-face reception hours. Our volunteers, many of whom are senior citizens, have graciously offered to continue helping out from home. We continue to offer individual assistance to Israeli workers, caregivers, refugees and asylum seekers, migrant workers in agriculture and Palestinians through the following lines of support:
As always, we at KLO understand the need for system-level change and the importance of acting quickly to secure the rights of the most vulnerable workers who have few economic and social support networks. We have therefore already initiated a number of policy level actions:
We appealed to the Ministers of Finance, Labor, Interior and Health, demanding that workers required to be in quarantine not lose their sick days. This measure would protect those who have not accumulated sick days as well as ensure that if a worker does have sick days, they are not used up in case he/she becomes ill with the virus and needs sick time. This appeal also calls for the government to take responsibility and not place costs of the quarantine on individual employers. We additionally demanded that all information about the COVID-19 response be made accessible in various languages.
We appealed to the Ministers of Interior, Finance and Labor, demanding that deposit funds (the 20% deducted from salaries) for refugees and asylum seekers (RAS) be released and given to workers. Many RAS are working in sectors undergoing cutbacks in the current situation and these workers do not have any financial safety nets. They are not eligible to receive social security funds, for example, as citizens are.
We appealed to Ministers of Interior, Finance and Labor on behalf of Palestinian workers who cannot enter Israel to work due to recent border closures, demanding that they be paid sick leave. The sick leave fund for Palestinians has in fact been a key advocacy issue for KLO. The fund, which is managed by the government, has accumulated 515 million ILS in workers’ unused sick leave payments because regulations in the past were so opaque and confusing that workers could not access these benefits.
KLO advocated with the Minister of the Interior and the Head of the Population and Immigration Authority to address the difficult situation faced by caregivers classified as “relievers” (those filling in for other caregivers). As a result, temporary regulations were passed stating that: (1) “relievers” can continue working with their current employer if the permanent caregiver has not returned due to travel restrictions (2) caregivers in the country 51-63 months can now be hired as regular caregivers and not just as “relievers” and (3) caregivers in the country 51 months who have passed the 90 day window without an employer can find a new employer now without their visa being denied. We also demanded that those caregivers who are on vacation with re-entry visas and unable to return to Israel due to the situation not be penalized and requested that the time they have to remain abroad not be counted as part of their authorized 63 month period of stay in Israel.
We appealed to the Ministry of Labor regarding their elimination of funding for programs, such as KLO’s, which inform, guide and assist workers. KLO has been receiving this support for over 10 years, enabling us to operate all our hotline, email and Facebook assistance. We stated that we strongly object to this decision, which is startling in light of the current situation and the dire needs of workers. We believe that this is another step, in an ongoing trend, of the State renouncing its responsibility to protect workers’ rights. We have requested that the Ministry of Labor review their decision and we will take strong advocacy steps to address this situation.
The Ministry of Labor’s announcement last week sends a signal that civil society organizations like KLO will, more than ever, be the main source of support for marginalized workers and at the forefront in supporting them during this critical time of need. However, following the government’s decision this fall to cancel placement of civic service volunteers at KLO, the current withdrawal of funding will have a significant impact on our programming. We will keep you updated regarding our efforts to address this situation. Thank you for your support and be well.