By Michal Tadjer, Kav LaOved Attorney

This year for May 1st, International Workers Day, we are publishing our annual report of appeals to Kav LaOved. In light of its findings, this date is more relevant than ever. In 2012, the aspiration to having improved work conditions, fair employment and reasonable work hours was shared by many workers in the labor market. While in person consultations are given by Kav LaOved only to low income workers (those earning below the minimum wage), email and phone consultations are given to all workers, regardless of pay or profession. The report is based on appeals made by thousands of workers, and shows trends and widespread phenomena found throughout these individual appeals.

The report unequivocally shows that phenomena that have previously characterized the disenfranchised margins of the work force have now reached even the most skilled professions. This year we have had appeals from doctors, nurses, workers in unionized health professions, economists, business development managers, engineers, pharmacists, high-tech workers, workers in other fields (i.e. advertising) and more.  Surprisingly, in some aspects their appeals were similar to the common complaints made by workers in less skilled professions, such as contracted and manpower workers, waiters, sales clerks, supermarket workers and workers in teaching and caregiving.

These phenomena, previously only associated with low paid workers, are spreading to other segments of workers, and the old division of the dual labor market, into primary and secondary sectors, is not as dichotomized as it once was. The pay in the primary labor market is still much higher, but it is evident there’s a significant deterioration in the essence of the employer-employee relationship. We’ve received reports of violations of workers’ rights, especially pension rights, unreasonable demands, strange deductions from pay, and work hours that are not permitted by the Work and Rest Hours Law.

In spite of the evident rise in appeals made by skilled workers, workers with low income still made the majority of appeals to Kav LaOved, as was with past years. These are workers who stand at the bottom of the labor market, in the most vulnerable and exploited positions. Many of these workers are female, who are more vulnerable to legal violations and have greater difficulties in accessing their rights, and may face social/cultural barriers to demanding them.

Another worrying trend is a substantial weakening in employers’ commitments to their employees. This weakening relationship started at the bottom of the labor market, through the use of contracted labor to answer temporary and periodic labor needs. These contracts have spread throughout the margins of the labor market, divided employers and employees and lessened the obligation of the former towards the latter. This lessening in obligation and responsibility has spread as a norm in the Israeli labor market. One example of this weakening commitment is the trend of employers instructing their workers to stay home as a form of punishment.

Sometimes, staying home has nothing to do with a worker’s behavior, but has to do with the needs and considerations of the business, with complete disregard of the affect of sudden and unjust loss of income. The trend of loosening obligations towards workers has a direct effect on the way employers conduct themselves during the termination of the job. Many of the appeals made this year touched upon and reflected this trend of employers’ unwillingness to conduct matters in a proper and legal way as the employment comes to an end, such as employers expressing complete indifference to the difficulties caused by the loss of the job.

Considering the above, it should not come as a surprise that workers who are not directly employed in the public sector suffer from a trend of violations tied to the weakening of the employer-employee bond. It is no longer enough to have formed legislation based on workplace seniority and commitment of employers to their workers. A dysfunctional enforcement system has made the trend grow and spread among skilled professions. We hope that the Heightened Enforcement Law will better the size and nature of enforcement, yet it is difficult to assume that the effects will be substantial. The governmental policy of striving for profits over work safety, quality and stability is weakening workers’ positions in many different professions and in all income levels.