On Saturday, January 4th, migrant caregivers will head to the streets, calling for the Israeli Government to adopt the International Labour Organization’s Convention 189, known as the Domestic Workers Convention. The rally will take place in honor of International Migrants Day (Dec. 18th) as well as International Human Rights Day (Dec. 10th), and will be the biggest effort to date of domestic workers in Israel demanding equal rights.
The Domestic Workers Convention was adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in September 2013, and was designed to further “the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all domestic workers.” The Convention asserts that the human rights of domestic workers include equal standing before the law, freedom of association with employers, and the prevention of agency brokerage fees that are expropriated from the worker’s remuneration in exchange for employment in a foreign country. Approximately 60,000 migrant caregivers are employed in Israel, from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Moldova, and various Eastern European countries. They are hired by elderly Israeli citizens eligible for homecare as determined by the National Insurance Institute.
The host of exploitative practices among employers of caregivers and their recruiting agencies in Israel are well documented. Today, migrant caregivers in Israel pay on average $8,400 in agency fees to private recruitment agencies in exchange for a work visa. These sums are collected in violation of the law and are not reported to the authorities. Such an arrangement forces workers to take out loans, guaranteed against their own assets, and effectively binds workers to their workplace, as they fear lack of employment and being unable to pay back the debt.
Further, though many caregivers are effectively employed 24 hours a day, nearly all earn just minimum wage. Caregivers are also the one labor group in Israel that is excluded from the Work and Rest Hours Law, following a March 2013 Israeli Supreme Court decision. The work circumstances of caregivers as well as their status as labor migrants, in other words, precludes them from the protections of some of the most basic labor laws in Israel. (For more, see Kav LaOved’s overview of the migrant caregiver labor sector.)
The Domestic Workers Convention has been ratified by ten countries thus far, among them Italy and Germany. More, two states within the U.S. (Hawaii and New York) have ratified a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights within their respective state senates, and just two months ago President Obama announced that the U.S. Federal Government will extend minimum wage and overtime protections to the nation’s domestic workers.
On Saturday, January 4th at 19:00, we will gather with caregivers in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv and march towards HaBima Square, calling together for the Israeli government to ratify the convention and to protect equal labor rights for caregivers.