Following two days of intense negotiations, Israel’s labor union on Monday called off a general strike in protest of the employment conditions of contract workers.
According to the agreement reached between Histadrut labor union chairman Avi Nissenkorn and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, 15,000 public sector contract workers will become full government employees within two years. Another 2,000 private sector contract workers will also receive employee status.
According to assessments, 200,000 workers in the public sector are currently not directly employed. Monday’s deal is expected to cost the state NIS 150 million, according to the Walla news site.
In November, the Histadrut declared a labor dispute in the public sector, demanding a reduction of widely prevalent contract employment. According to business newspaper TheMarker, the organization’s extensive media campaign on the issues cost it millions of shekels.
In light of Monday’s deal, the Histadrut will call off the general strike which had been planned for Wednesday.
“Today we started a social revolution,” Nissenkorn said in a press statement after the deal was reached. “We are bringing back the dignity of the working man.”
Commending the finance minister’s deep social commitment, Nissenkorn said the Histadrut “will continue to act, sector after sector, with great courage and determination, in cooperation with the finance ministry.”
Kahlon also hailed the agreement, promising that the state was “taking back responsibility” for the country’s workers.
“Today, we look the workers straight in the eye. At the hospital cleaner who we sometimes pass by without noticing, at the school nurse who we all remember treating us for the first time,” he said.
“We look them straight in the eye and tell them: the state is taking back responsibility. The government is no longer disregarding you, it is standing by your side.”
‘Not a long-term solution’
But while workers’ rights groups welcomed the deal signed Monday, they also insisted it did not go far enough.
“We welcome the absorption of thousands of workers and contract workers to direct employment in a wide variety of professions. This is clearly a first step in reducing the sordid phenomenon of abusive contract employment,” a statement by the Coalition for Direct Employment read.
“At the same time, it is important to emphasize that this is a solution for less than 2.5 percent of public sector contract workers. Therefore, despite the progress, it is impossible to hail the agreement as a fundamental improvement in the conditions of Israel’s hundreds of thousands of contract workers.
“Unfortunately, the agreement as presented does not include the groundwork for a long-term solution to eradicate contract employment.”
According to workers’ rights NGO Worker’s Hotline, contract employment in Israel constitutes approximately 5-10% of all employment in the labor market, of which 20% exists in the public sector.
Common in sectors such as security, dining, maintenance, technology, social work, law and education, contract employment is most prevalent among relatively disadvantaged groups.
Workers often earn below minimum wage without receiving full employment rights such as paid overtime, vacation and annual leave, convalescence pay, severance pay or prior notice of dismissal.