Obtuse officials and overbearing government bureaucracy has put a unique Israeli business that employs 200 people with disabilities on the verge of closure, Channel 2 reported Monday.
Government funds that were supposed to go to Call Yachol (a Hebrew play on words for “everyone can”) — a Rishon Lezion-based company that employs workers who suffer from a range of physical and mental disabilities as call center staffers — never made it to the company, or arrived late, according to the Channel 2 report, which laid the blame at the doorstep of the government’s Administration for Integrating People with Disabilities into the Labor Force.
The report cited documents showing repeated incidents in which earmarked funds failed to reach their destination. Moreover, the report said that the administration’s director, Benny Feffermann, has claimed since 2007 that he has no way to aid the company and that his office failed to disclose special funding avenues developed specifically to encourage the employment of disabled people.
“It all falls under the term ‘adjustments,'” said Call Yachol founder Gil Winch. “‘Adjustments’ refers to anything from providing handicap washrooms to wider aisles in transport vehicles and professional guidance for managers working with us for the first time. From the moment we began operating, we approached the government and asked that our ‘adjustment expenses’ be reimbursed.”
The report said that, despite being ordered to waive the company’s deductibles for the various adjustments by the Industry, Labor, and Trade Ministry — the ministry that oversees the activities of the Administration — Feffermann failed to do so and even overcharged Call Yachol, causing the company to go into debt, which in turn made it ineligible to receive government grants.
“After five years in business, we can no longer fund operations by ourselves. We need the government’s help,” said Winch.
In a country where 90 percent of people with disabilities suffer from chronic unemployment, Call Yachol, founded in 2008, offers its employees a rare opportunity to achieve self-sustainability, the TV report said. The company offers its clients — which include major telecommunications companies, media outlets, insurance agencies, and large food manufacturers — reliable outsourcing for call center services, in a field that reportedly suffers from a 60-100 percent annual employee turnover.
Over the years, Call Yachol has received a fair share of local media attention. The government is well aware of Call Yachol and its mission. The Foreign Ministry even highlights the company on its English-language website, boasting of the “one-of-a-kind Israeli call center.”
“Instead of expressing gratitude to a place that enables disabled people to work with dignity, they are only making things more difficult,” said Efrat Ben Yitzhak, the company’s spokeswoman, herself disabled.
“It will be irresponsible, bordering on criminal, if the state allows this company to go bankrupt,” said former welfare minister Isaac Herzog (Labor). “It is contrary to the government’s policies, which seek to encourage people with disabilities to join the workforce.”
The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry denied delays in the transfer of due funds. It asserted that unless changes are made to the law, there would be no possibility to hand over other funds. The response also stressed that the government granted Call Yachol NIS 5.5 million (almost $1.5 million) over the last two years, four million of this from the ministry’s budget.