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To protect rights, Palestinian workers to get Israel permits untied to employers

Reform of current system, which has led to illegal trade in permits, to take effect in December; the policy change will only apply to the construction sector, where most work

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Meitar checkpoint near Hebron in the West Bank, May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Meitar checkpoint near Hebron in the West Bank, May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The government is set to implement a reform in the coming weeks that will see some Palestinian laborers in Israel receive work permits directly, rather than granting them through their Israeli employers, the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority said in a letter announcing the policy change.

The reform will take effect on December 6, four years after an inter-ministerial committee recommended the change. According to PIBA, the reform will apply to construction workers and those engaged in so-called ‘wet work’: ironwork, plastering and flooring.

The new system will allow “workers to move between different employers in the construction sector according to their own choice. The name of their employer will no longer be inscribed into their permits, but rather the name of their field of employment: construction,” PIBA wrote.

Workers who lose their jobs will maintain their permits for 60 days, and can apply for a separate permit to enter Israel and look for employment.

Most Palestinians with work permits in Israel work in construction and agriculture. Approximately 100,000 West Bank Palestinians are legally employed in Israel or in West Bank settlements, according to the labor rights group Kav LaOved. They constitute a large part of the Palestinian economy — approximately 15-20 percent of employed Palestinians work in Israel.

Under the current system, work permits are issued to Israeli employers rather than Palestinian workers themselves, effectively tying the laborers to their employers and preventing them from freely moving between workplaces.

This has led to an illegal trade in work permits, with some Palestinians reportedly paying thousands of shekels for documentation to work in Israel. The cost often amounts to nearly half of their total income and is paid out of pocket.

The practice was flagged in a report released in August by the state comptroller, which faulted the government for not implementing the reform.

Palestinian construction workers from the West Bank village of Abadiya, during their coffee break at a house under renovation in the Jewish settlement of Alon, south of Jerusalem, on February 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The ongoing phenomenon of trafficking in Palestinian work permits and illegally collecting payments from Palestinian workers by employers and agents was caused, among other things, by the non-implementation of a government decision,” the report said.

The government announced the reform would take effect next month in response to a High Court petition filed by Kav LaOved, an advocacy group for workers. With individual permits, Palestinian workers will be able to move between employers and also receive permits to search for new jobs.

“It needs to be ensured that a system is established to allow workers to search for work independently to eradicate illegal brokerage,” Kav LaOved said in response, referring to the trade in work permits. “It needs to be ensured that no one continues to find indirect ways to extort money from workers and no less important — to inform the workers of the decision.”

According to Kav LaOved attorney Michal Tager, Israeli authorities have yet publish information about the new policy in Arabic.

“There is still no official information in Arabic, and the workers are relying entirely on rumors,” Tager wrote.

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