ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Amid legal battle with caregiver, Ben Gvir sought to cut payments to foreign workers

As an opposition lawmaker, Otzma Yehudit chief put forth bill that could have released him from hefty payments that court ruled he must pay to late father’s Sri Lankan caregiver

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir proposed legislation last year that would have lifted an obligation for Israeli employers to make pension payments for foreign caregivers — at the same time as he was engaged in a legal case over unpaid benefits to a Sri Lankan nurse who tended to his father until his death.

Last week, the Haaretz daily reported that Ben Gvir and his brother, Shai, were ordered by a labor court to pay some NIS 100,000 ($27,000) in unpaid benefits to Sri Lankan national Vijeta Sonimol, who lived with Ben Gvir’s parents and cared for his father from 2009 to 2017, including a period in which he lived at the minister’s home in the settlement of Kiryat Arba.

On Sunday, Haaretz revealed that the legislation, which Ben Gvir submitted in June 2022 while an opposition lawmaker, would have canceled “the duty of an individual who employs a caregiver to bear the burden of social payments,” on the grounds that it is a “fictitious salary increase with no pension value.”

In the bill’s explanation, it is reasoned that such a “heavy burden” is unjustified due to foreign caregivers’ temporary stay in the country.

According to Haaretz, Ben Gvir did not note at the time that he was involved in the legal battle. The bill did not advance to any further legislative stage.

It was cosigned by Likud party MKs Keti Shitrit and Hava Eti Atiya.

Helping an elderly Israeli cross the street in Tel Aviv in 2011 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative: A carer helping an elderly Israeli to cross the street in Tel Aviv. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Ben Gvir’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In the case, Sonimol claimed he was forced to sign a document agreeing to forfeit his compensation after his work was terminated, in exchange for NIS 5,000 ($1,350). He turned to the Kav LaOved workers’ rights advocacy group, which approached the Ben Gvir brothers to demand they pay in full.

Ben Gvir then accused Sonimol of causing his father’s death by traveling to Sri Lanka for a family visit, and demanded that he pay the family NIS 100,000 in damages, the report said, although Ben Gvir never formally sued him in court.

However, the Jerusalem Labor Court found that the Ben Gvir brothers owed Sonimol NIS 86,000 in compensation for being fired, a sum that was later increased.

The court found that while Ben Gvir did not force Sonimol to sign the resignation document, it was nevertheless not legally binding since ending his employment contract was the equivalent of being fired, not resigning.

The court noted that Ben Gvir had ultimately consented to Sonimol traveling back to Sri Lanka for a family visit. The court also said that the brothers were obligated to pay because they inherited their father’s debt.

Last month, the court of appeals, in a final ruling, increased the amount of compensation to some NIS 100,000, Haaretz reported. The Ben Gvir brothers had already paid slightly more than half the amount and were then ordered to pay an additional NIS 40,000 to Sonimol.

Amit Gurevich, a labor lawyer, told Haaretz that if Ben Gvir’s bill had passed, he may have been able to avoid having to pay the compensation to Sonimol.

Guy Brand, an attorney who represented Sonimol, told Haaretz: “The idea that there are classes of working people according to their origin or religion is bogus and contradicts legal principles, particularly Israeli labor law.”

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