Regulating Refugee Employment is the Only Option

Employment regulation for asylum seekers is in everyone’s best interests

The striking asylum seekers did not target their employers. They targeted a new law that sanctions imprisonment without trial for an unlimited period of time.

The Israeli economy in general and the employers in particular have an interest in the proper management of asylum seekers’ status. The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR), upon which Israel is a signatory, requires the host state to provide work permits to asylum seekers during the period prior to obtaining refugee status. Not so in Israel.

For many years the citizens of Eritrea and Sudan have been given permits that provide protection from expulsion while consigning them to a temporary and confusing status. The visa issued to asylum seekers clearly states that it is not a work permit, however the state does not enforce the law and creates an absurd situation in which refugees are forced to work illegally while the authorities look the other away.

While Israel is not permitted to expel the asylum seekers, it cannot withhold legal status from such a large group of people for such long periods of time. Many law abiding employers who wish to protect their employees find themselves confused when faced with this unsupportable situation in which the laws applying to the permit holders are unclear. These workers are not Israeli. Nor do they have foreign worker visas because they were not brought to Israel by employment agencies.

Employers turn to Kav LaOved for information on various issues such as how to abide by the pension regulation because the pension funds management do not allow non Israelis to open an account, how to enter their workers data into the pay slip, how much tax they owe, and which deductions they are allowed to make. All these and other issues are unregulated.

Providing regulations for the employment of asylum seekers is in the interest of all workers, whether Israeli or not. Workers without rights are vulnerable to exploitation such as sub-minimum wages, long hours, and inadequate conditions. This is not only an ethical issue; it is a drag on the economy and clears the way to exploitation of all workers.

We must strive for equality of employment in Israel ensuring that all workers are protected by the law so that no one who must work to survive is singled out for exploitation.

Opinion column by Noa Kaufman, Coordinator of Refugees and Asylum Seeker Workers published in The Marker on January 14, 2014 in Hebrew.

Translation: Sharon Kerpel