A meeting of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers took place last month in response to the report published by Kav LaOved, “National Insurance Institute and Non-Israeli Workers: Failures in treatment of claims presented by migrant, asylum seeker and Palestinian workers.” Participants included the Director General of the National Insurance Institute (NII), representatives from the Ministry of the Treasury, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Health, representatives of the non-profit organizations Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees, Yes! to Seniors (Ken LaZaken), MK Moshe Mizrahi and MK Michal Rozin, Committee Chairwoman.

Kav LaOved representatives reported on  irregularities in the handling of claims submitted by non-Israelis including: long delays in the provision of health services to people with workplace injuries which can lead to the deterioration of the worker’s health; the inability of the NII computer system to deal with migrants  and asylum seekers’ passports or permit numbers, thus requiring injured workers to physically go to the NII offices for updates; and in most NII branches, with the exception of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, non-Israeli claims are either delayed or outright rejected because the status of these workers in Israel is unclear.

Ms. Ilana Schreibman, Deputy Director of NII Benefits Department, reported on the efforts made to provide proper care for stateless workers. And according to Mr. Daniel Zaken, Director of NII Health Insurance Department, authorities report that the work injury claim process is nearly ideal. There are no delays, the investigation process is efficient, and efforts are made to complete the investigation as quickly as possible. In addition, the workers are protected against delay even if their employer refuses to cooperate. NII representatives confront uncooperative employers, even threatening them with a fine or demanding the employer cover the total cost of the claim.

In response, Kav LaOved representatives brought before the committee examples of Kav LaOved cases in which the NII delayed confirmation of work injury claims. For example, a worker was injured at a bus parking lot a year ago but his employer refused to report the injury. This caused a delay in the completion of the investigation because, according to the NII, the “employer did not answer the phone.”  In another case, a worker injured her arm by slipping on the wet floor at her employer’s home. The employer signed the NII forms; however, when the worker requested an update from the NII on her claim which had been delayed for over six months, she received no response. These stories contradict the picture that was presented by the representatives of the NII, attesting to significant delays in the completion of workplace injury claims submitted by people who are not Israeli citizens.

The representative of the Ministry of Health, Mr. Yigal Barzani, reported that in June 2009 an inter-ministerial committee was appointed and led by the past Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Tuvia Horev. The Horev Committee deliberated the question of health insurance for non-Israelis including the option to provide health insurance under the National Health Law.  At that time the discussion related to a limited number of cases, rather than a phenomenon, which led to the conclusion not to include non-Israelis in the National Health Law.

Summarizing the meeting, the Director General of the NII concluded that there is a gap between activities related by NII representatives and reports from the field. He assured the committee that attention will be paid to the situation and directives will be renewed.

Continuation of “Kav LaOved” activities following the deliberation:

A possible solution to the problem may be found in requiring the purchase of private health insurance to cover workplace injuries. At this time private insurance companies are meant to cover the costs of the medical needs of an injured worker whose claim has not been confirmed three months after the accident. However this is problematic due to the lack information regarding this policy even among organizations helping workers and because most of the asylum seekers who turn to Kav LaOved for help have not purchased private health insurance.

According to Physicians for Human Rights statistics, the insurance companies refuse to insure asylum seekers with “foreign worker insurance” as defined by foreign worker regulations. Instead they are insured with “tourist insurance,” a significantly more expensive insurance that provides only minimal coverage. This is the reason that employers avoid providing medical insurance for the asylum workers, according to Physicians for Human Rights. The question was referred to a representative of the Treasury Ministry regarding the option to require insurance companies to allow these workers to be insured as foreign workers. The Treasury Department responded that the private insurance companies cannot be obligated to provide insurance that is not profitable.

The Ministry of Treasury’s inability to require the sale of foreign worker health insurance to asylum seekers supports human rights organizations’ demand to cover the asylum seekers in Israel with the National Health Law.  Workers must not be without health insurance, as they are today.

[Translation: Sharon Kerpel]