The Workers Advice Center - The Struggle for the Arab Unemployed

On October 13, the Workers Advice Center (WAC) in Nazareth launched a petition against the Employment Authority (EA). It calls for an end to the EA's strong-arm tactics against unemployed Arab workers. WAC has received numerous complaints that the EA has been denying workers their rights to unemployment benefits. In the name of twenty unemployed Arab workers, it is preparing legal action against the EA and National Insurance, charging them with discrimination.

The Israeli economy has been in recession since last year, and unemployment has increased dramatically. This summer, more than 200,000 were jobless – out of a workforce of 2.3 million. Arab centers have been hit hardest. Unemployment there is officially around 10%, but in reality it is much higher, because women are usually not included in the statistics. The recession in textiles, building, and tourism has badly affected Arabs who have traditionally dominated these industries.

In Israel, unemployed persons are entitled to benefits. They receive 70% of their most recent salary for a period of six months. If they do not find a job within six months, they become a "social case" and receive a fixed monthly amount which is less than the minimum salary in Israel (2,200 NIS, which is less than $550 monthly). In theory, local Employment Bureaus (EBs) are supposed to send unemployed persons to a potential work place. If the workers do not turn up within 24 hours, or if they refuse the job, they are labeled "refusers", and they do not receive benefits for three months. But an official "scam" has developed, abusing this system. Hagar Enosh, labor journalist for Yediot Aharonot, revealed on September 1 that the Ministry of the Treasury told the EA to cut the number of those receiving benefits in order to save on the national budget. Enosh said that 10,000 unemployed persons were labeled refusers in August, and that the ministry set up quotas of workers to be categorized as refusers. She claimed that a bonus has been offered to the EA's chief manager Moshe Dimri and his managers, if they manage to cut 150 million NIS from the 1.2 billion NIS that the Treasury is scheduled to pay in unemployment benefits until December 1998.

WAC believes that this policy, with regard to Arabs, dates back to the spring. In recent months the situation has worsened. For example, dozens of jobless Arab women from Nazareth appealed to WAC after the local EB labeled them refusers. The Nazareth EB told the women to wait near its offices at 6 a.m. one morning for a contractor named Assad Zu'abi, who would take them to work in olive orchards near Beisan. The contractor never appeared. After waiting for three consecutive mornings, the women asked the EB what had happened, only to learn that they were already registered as refusers. WAC discovered that another group of unemployed young women had been taken to the orchards. After four hours the same contractor took them home, saying "they were not fit for the task". The EB registered them as refusers too. The unemployed have the right (in theory, at least) to appeal against the EB decision. The Appeals Committee, however, does not function. Many registered refusers wait months for a hearing. All forms are in Hebrew, and the appellants often do not understand procedures. Lines are long and staff are few. It all adds up to humiliating treatment.

The WAC petition includes the following demands:

  1. WAC calls for an end to the arbitrary and unjust treatment of the unemployed. The EB should respect their right to a dignified livelihood.
  2. The EB should hear appeals within 30 days.
  3. The EB should allow unemployed workers access to their files, in addition to counseling them in Arabic about their rights.
  4. The EB should provide workers with minimal facilities, such as a hall and sufficient chairs.
  5. There must be an end to discrimination against Arabs for "security reasons" in industries such as electronics should stop. WAC is a grassroots Trade Union Association that organizes workers, trains labor leaders, and helps create class consciousness. For more details please contact: Mr. Wehbe Badarneh, Nazareth Tel. 972-6-6462156 \ 972--50-586198 alsa...@netvision.net.il \ http://www.odaction.org/wac/

Box: For their contributions to our summer camp, WAC and al-Baqa centers thank the Ecumenical Activities Committee in Canton Bern, (Switzerland); The Pontifical Mission (Jerusalem); and the Palestina Committee in Munich.