Amid virus crisis, Knesset unanimously votes to freeze pay raises for lawmakers

Opposition leader Lapid calls automatic annual salary increase for Knesset members ‘scandalous,’ urges MKs to ‘strengthen public trust in the Knesset’

View of the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
View of the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The Knesset unanimously passed legislation Monday night that effectively halted the raising of lawmakers’ salaries for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year amid an outcry over the move at a time when Israel’s unemployment is at record highs due to the coronavirus crisis.

MKs were due a projected monthly pay raise of NIS 6,500 ($1,930), a figure ironically bumped up by the country’s economic plight.

According to current procedures, MKs’ salaries are linked to the average wage in the country. However, that has risen steeply in recent months, largely because so many low-income workers have become unemployed due to mass business closures caused by two national lockdowns and a raft of virus restrictions.

The monthly salary of all lawmakers is currently NIS 45,521 ($13,637), while ministers earn NIS 50,623 ($15,165) and the prime minister and alternate prime minister earn NIS 54,762 ($16,405), according to the Globes business news website.

The legislation was pushed by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy.

A statement from them called the current situation whereby lawmakers’ salaries were automatically increased every year “scandalous” and blamed it on the fact that “salaries are not determined by a public committee but by the Knesset members themselves.”

Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Knesset plenum on October 28, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

The statement also called for a freeze on any pay increase for MKs until the end of 2022, giving time for the Knesset to agree upon a different mechanism for determining MKs salaries, and in order to show “a personal example and to strengthen public trust in the Knesset and its elected representatives.”

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi voiced reservations regarding the proposal, calling the bill voted upon “a lesser evil.”

He accused the opposition of pandering to public opinion and said that they had previously blocked a proposal he had made to formalize a way to deal with the salaries of all senior public sector executives.

As of last month, 980,370 Israelis were out of work — almost a quarter of the workforce — including 628,344 who were furloughed.

During the first lockdown put in place to curb the initial outbreak of the virus in the spring, the unemployment figures spiked as 800,000 people quickly lost their jobs.

As the outbreak subsided, some people were able to return to work, but later, with infections surging again, the government imposed fresh restrictions and the jobless rate again spiked.

The Employment Service Bureau released a report last week warning of “chronic unemployment,” as the data showed that in October a bigger percentage of workers who lost their jobs were being fired rather than just put on furlough, or unpaid leave, compared to previous months.

According to the data, of the new people who signed up with the bureau as jobless in October, 16.1% said they had been fired. This compares with 9.3% of people who said they had been fired in September, and with 6.3% and 11.4%, respectively, in March and April, the months in which the first lockdown was in place.

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