International Women's Day'I turned from a rising star in the company to a kind of burden'

Fired during war, reservists’ wives band together to battle for job security

Spouses of reserve troops create forum to help each other with employment rights and petition the government to ease their economic burden as their husbands take up arms

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Representatives of the Reservists’ Wives Forum meet with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (left) in early 2024. (Courtesy)
Representatives of the Reservists’ Wives Forum meet with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (left) in early 2024. (Courtesy)

When Oshrat Kaminer’s husband was called up to reserve duty on October 7 to protect the country in the wake of the Hamas terror onslaught, Kaminer suddenly found herself torn between running a busy household with small children and working her full-time job — no less of a service to the country — while coping with anxiety over the war.

A few weeks into the fighting with Hamas in Gaza, she was fired.

Kaminer, 39, from Nahariya, had been working as a quality assurance manager at a food packaging company. The mother of a 4-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl with special needs, she was laid off barely a month into the war after requesting to work from home as her children dealt with the anxiety brought on by continuous siren alerts and rocket attacks.

Kaminer is among thousands of spouses of reservists who were left alone at home to take care of children, finances and household needs, and in the middle of the war, have been sent on unpaid leave, put on furlough, fired or had their working hours cut.

“When your partner or husband is on reserve duty, beyond the absence and worry about his safety, it brings the war right into your home and affects your day-to-day life,” Kaminer told The Times of Israel. “After I was fired, employment was a secondary concern in my life and the remainder of my problems turned to be more pressing and central, such as focusing on the rehabilitation of my daughter, the growing uncertainty of an escalation in the north, and more and more communities being evacuated around us.”

“No one talked about the wives of reservists. We were not on anyone’s radar — no one around me could understand the difficulties I was facing, but in retrospect, I realized that I wasn’t alone,” she recounted.

Oshrat Kaminer with her family. (Courtesy)

Finding herself overlooked as she led the charge at home and feeling abandoned by the government as her husband protected the homeland for five months, Kaminer found common ground in a community of wives of reservists who mobilized to provide resources, knowledge, emotional support, as well as legal aid for the eligibility of state funds and compensation.

The Reservists’ Wives Forum was founded in the wake of the war out of a need to raise awareness of the needs of the partners and spouses of soldiers and to make changes and adjustments to government policy for the protection of their rights, in particular in the workplace. The group has been demanding from the government that some of the laws, including protection from dismissal and other entitlements provided for reserve soldiers must also be applied to their spouses.

The forum, which has 5,000 members and currently represents about 100,000 reserve families, includes 30 volunteer lawyers who assist in all matters related to employment protection — even filling in forms for complaints about dismissals and state compensation.

“Weeks into the war and as children were — even if only partially — returning to schools and kindergartens, there was a feeling that a certain routine has returned and people went on with their everyday lives, while we continued to struggle with the day-to-day management as our husbands were protecting the country,” said Shvut Raanan, a 39-year-old lawyer and mother of four children under the age of 10, who represents the forum.

From rising star to ‘burden’

With her husband also on reserve duty, Mor Kisch from Rosh Haayin was struggling to cope with the daily pressure as the head of research in a private company, working from home, while her children — a 3-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy — were suffering from anxieties and emotional stress.

Mor Kisch. (Courtesy)

After the 34-year-old asked her manager for more flexible work arrangements, she was told that her job would be cut to half-time. When she refused to accept her new employment terms and instead asked to be put on furlough, her request was rejected and she lost her job.

“It was an absurd situation, I turned from a rising star in the company to some kind of burden,” Kisch said.

While the government has a plan to compensate war-affected businesses as thousands of employees were called up to join the fighting, spouses of reservists faced with economic hardships and mental distress due to the absence of their partners have not been receiving adequate recognition and financial assistance, according to the forum.

Taking their agenda to lawmakers, reservists’ spouses heading the forum, among them many lawyers, in the last couple of weeks met with politicians including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz.

Often bringing their children with them, the leaders of the forum took part in the discussions that were held at the Knesset on the topic of assistance to reservists and their spouses in the Economic Affairs Committee, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.

Representatives of the Reservists’ Wives Forum work on an assistance plan for the families of reserve soldiers. (Courtesy)

Raanan, who has been holding talks with government leaders, said that as a result of the group’s campaign, many of the demands for economic assistance and employment protection for reservists’ spouses were adopted in the NIS 9 billion ($2.5 billion) wartime aid package for army reservists approved earlier this year.

The plan includes a monthly allowance for reserve families with children up to the age of 14, the extension of maternity leave payments, a one-time grant for spouses who were put on unpaid leave, grants for children with special needs, funding for psychological support and complementary treatments.

Another achievement is that spouses will be entitled to up to an additional eight days of paid leave from work, following a collective bargaining agreement signed in February with the Histadrut Labor Federation in Israel.

A new force to reckon with

Raanan, whose husband has been on reserve duty since October 7, initially joined the forum for emotional support, but soon realized that she was needed as a lawyer, as many reservists’ spouses were desperately turning to the group for legal advice and to help protect their jobs and entitlements in the workplace.

There is protection against dismissal, but the protection is not at all hermetic. In Israel, the Workers’ Protection Law in times of emergency prohibits employers from firing an employee who is absent from work either due to reserve duty, a Home Front Command order, or due to the supervision of a child up to the age of 14, or a child with special needs, while the education system is closed.

At the end of November, a temporary order came into effect, which protects spouses of reservists from being laid off if they are absent from work because they have to care for a child up to the age of 14.

Shvut Raanan, a lawyer at the Reservists’ Wives Forum. (Courtesy)

According to a survey conducted on behalf of the forum earlier this year, over 30 percent of reservists’ spouses reported a change in their employment status. Six percent of these women were fired from their jobs, 6% were put on furlough, 9% decided to give notice and 38% reduced their working hours at their own expense.

In recent months, the forum has been tackling more than 500 complaints about dismissal, and has helped 115 spouses to hold onto their jobs.

“We acted in cases where employers wanted to fire reservists’ wives and told them that they were legally not allowed to and as a result, they were not dismissed, and instead more flexible work arrangements were found,” said Raanan. “In other cases, employers didn’t care, and acted under the assumption that in particular now during the war there would be no supervision of the law.”

Michal Dan-Harel, managing director of Manpower Israel, agreed that as the country in some parts came back slowly to something approaching routine, most employers also expected reservists’ spouses to come back as much as possible to the work-life balance that was in place before the war.

“Overall, the majority of employers were considerate of the war situation, especially at the beginning of the war, but not all of them responded in the way reservists’ wives and partners expected,” said Dan-Harel. “Mostly the bigger companies could allow for some work flexibility such as temporarily working reduced hours, but for employers with a small business, it is much harder as sometimes there is only one person that fills a certain job.”

Michal Dan-Harel, Managing Director of Manpower Israel. (Courtesy)

Meanwhile, the forum is continuing its battle to expand war assistance to reservists’ spouses, including the extension of the period for protection against layoffs from 30 to 60 days following the return of reservists to their workplace, which was passed in March, as well as special considerations for divorcees and self-employed.

As of now, the forum’s legal team is still assessing Kaminer’s and Kisch’s cases.

Out of their jobs since December, Kisch and Kaminer have been looking for new work opportunities, but quickly found that their current situation and the uncertainty about the duration of the war make it almost impossible to return to the workplace.

“As a family, we are proud to serve the country, but I believe that the government needs to step in and share part of the burden to support the needs not only of its citizens, but also give economic assistance to employers so that they can provide a safety net to their employees during wartime,” said Kisch. “The support needs to come from above and not from the mobilization of all the citizens.”

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