Right-wing MKs seek to eliminate pension payments to foreign caregivers

Bill exempting elderly, sick, disabled from making pension contributions for their aides passes preliminary reading; workers’ hotline warns it may keep good carers away from Israel

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A caregiver walks with an elderly woman on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on July 2, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A caregiver walks with an elderly woman on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on July 2, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Lawmakers from the Likud and right-wing Otzma Yehudit parties are pushing to exempt the elderly, sick and disabled from making pension payments to their foreign caregivers, in a move that an organization that campaigns for worker rights warns could end up driving overseas caregivers away from jobs in Israel.

A bill that passed a preliminary reading last week and was sent to the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee was submitted by Likud MK Ariel Kallner, with 54 MKs voting in favor, 13 against, and one abstaining.

Presenting his bill, which would apply to new caregivers only and not existing ones, Kallner said paying a foreign caregiver pension contributions of around NIS 4,800 ($1,275) per year placed an “absurd” burden on the roughly 60,000 old, disabled and sick people who employ them.

Caregivers eventually return to their home countries, which usually do not have pension arrangements, he said, so the payments amount to a “fictitious retroactive wage supplement that has no pension value,” is “unrelated to reaching retirement age,” and has “no moral or legal justification.”

“Why are we exporting Israeli money without any benefit to the country?” he asked.

Kav LaOved, a workers’ hotline that presses for equal rights for all workers in Israel, explained that by law, foreign caregivers had a right to the same money paid as pension contributions to Israeli employees, even if they did not or could not use it as a pension once they returned home.

Aelad Cahana, who heads Kav LaOved’s legal department.(Courtesy, Kav LaOved)

Aelad Cahana, who heads Kav LaOved’s legal department, told The Times of Israel that he wasn’t sure the bill would stand up to local or international law, if passed.

And he warned lawmakers would likely try to extend it to other branches of foreign employment, such as agriculture, if it became law.

More than 80 percent of foreign worker caregivers are women. Around half are from the Philippines, with smaller numbers from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

As a Times of Israel investigation revealed last year, almost all migrant workers arrive in Israel already heavily in debt, having paid illegal brokers’ sums of up to $30,000 to get work in the country.

Illustrative: A caregiver walks with an elderly man in a wheelchair (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Previously the Israeli government decided to enable Israeli brokers to charge caregivers a one-off sum of around NIS 6,500 ($1,725), paid in installments.

Cahana said foreign caregivers receive a basic salary of NIS 6,000-7,000 ($1,600-1,860) per month to work around the clock, without any overtime pay, for at least six days a week. “None of us would work for that,” he said.

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)

“They leave their families to care for strangers,” Cahana noted. “They are denied a full life, because they are forbidden from entering into relationships with other migrant workers. If they are found to have broken these rules, they are deported.” (This is due to the state’s concern of foreign couples giving birth and taking root in the country.)

Repaying debts can gobble up their salaries for the initial three years, he said.

Cahana feared that the bill, if passed, would result in the better caregivers heading for other countries where pay is higher and where they can have families. “Good workers aren’t attracted by worsening conditions,” he said.

Kallner’s bill to stop pension payments is the latest of a string of similar bills submitted over the past two years by Likud and Otzma Yehudit lawmakers, starting with one presented in June 2022 by Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir together with Likud MKs Etty Hava Atia and Keti Shitrit.

This took place as Ben Gvir was engaged in a legal case over unpaid benefits to a Sri Lankan nurse who tended to his father until the father’s death.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a court hearing in Jerusalem on July 2, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A year ago, a petition to the High Court by Kav LaOved and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel persuaded judges to strike down a law that allowed the confiscation of deposited funds of migrant workers who left Israel after their allotted time here, on the grounds that it violated the right to property.

That law obliged employers of migrant workers to put all social contributions, including pension payments, into a deposit which would be released to the worker upon their departure from the country. An amendment to the law in 2005 and regulations from 2016 created a mechanism to deduct an increasing amount the longer the worker remained after expiration of their contract, nullifying the sum totally after six months.

Right-wing MKs responded angrily to the High Court’s intervention.

Likud MK Eliyahu Revivo attends a Knesset committee meeting on June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Eliyahu Revivo (Likud), one of the many MKs to submit a bill like Kallner’s in the past, told the Knesset Special Committee on Migrant Workers, which he chairs, that canceling pension payments for migrant workers was a “possible response” to the High Court’s decision.

He said Israel had to be “sealed off” from non-Jews wishing to live in the country permanently.

Speaking against what he called a “disgusting” bill, Ofer Cassif of the far-left Hadash Party accused the bill’s backers of hypocrisy, saying the state should provide workers affordable sheltered accommodation and higher subsidies for medicines. The bill would “turn the underprivileged against the underprivileged — those who need care and their loyal caregivers,” he said.

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