During a meeting held by the Knesset Public Petitions Committee this week it was revealed that the Minimum Wage Law, which applies to the territories, is not being enforced there by the Ministry of Economy, which claims that it is difficult to enforce the law when the State has yet to determine whether the rest of the labor laws will apply to the region.
According to ministry officials, inspectors who will visit workplaces in the territories will encounter numerous rights violations, but they will not be able to do anything about it. Therefore, officials say, the inspectors are refraining from launching enforcement operations in the Judea and Samaria.
It was further revealed at the meeting that Israeli employers are charging Palestinian workers NIS 2,000 a month for a work permit. In essence, the employers are forcing the Palestinians to incur the cost of filing a request for a permit. The Ministry of Economy`s representatives claimed it has never received a complaint on this matter and promised to look into it ahead of the next meeting.
Public Petitions Committee Chairwoman MK Adi Koll expressed outrage at ”government offices allowing clear violations of workers’ basic rights.” She demanded answers regarding the regulation of pension funds for Palestinian workers in the territories.
The government ordered the Justice Ministry to determine how the IDF will apply labor laws to the West Bank by January 1, but the ministry told the committee it is unable to do so in time.
”It cannot be that Palestinian laborers work under slave-like conditions just because ministries can’t handle the schedule they gave themselves,” Koll said.
Chana Zohar of the Worker`s Hotline said the situation is particularly problematic in the Jordan Valley, where workers are paid NIS 8-12 an hour, without being given any additional rights. She said one of every four Palestinians pays the employer NIS 1,500-2,000 a month for a permit. The sum is deducted from the worker`s salary.
Lt.-Col. Yair Maman, head of economic arrangements in the West Bank, told the committee that 52,000 Palestinians are given permits to work in sovereign Israel, some permanently and some seasonally for agriculture. In addition, another 33,000 work illegally. Within the West Bank, 25,000 Palestinians are employed by Israelis. He said the average daily wage for a Palestinian worker is NIS 168.
Addressing the average daily wage, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said, ”That number is based on the minimum wage they`re supposed to make. Who’s enforcing it?” Economy Ministry representative Riki Yehezkel explained that the ministry ”enforces minimum wage if it receives complaints, but does not initiate enforcement. Over the last two years we investigated 25 complaints beyond the Green Line, but the only labor law we can enforce is minimum wage.”
Palestinians working within the Green Line enjoy the same labor laws as Israelis; however, Israeli law does not generally apply to residents of Judea and Samaria, regardless of their ethnicity, and each law has to be applied individually by an order from the IDF, which governs the West Bank.
The committee plans to send letters to the Justice and Defense Ministries to demand that they expedite the work of a task force that is examining the expansion of labor laws to Judea and Samaria, and will hold a follow-up meeting on the matter in a month.