Solidarity Magazine » Israeli Workers Advice Center Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A signing of a collective agreement between WAC (Israel) and Musrara Art School Sun, 10 Oct 2010 17:12:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A collective agreement between the Israeli Workers Advice Centre (WAC) and Musrara Art School was signed on August 25

A collective agreement between WAC and Musrara Art School was signed in initials on August 25. The agreement settles the working conditions of 70 workers and lecturers, and will come to force after the approval of the collective agreements registrar in the ministry of Industry, Trade & Labor. This is WAC’s first collective agreement.

The agreement determines that the lecturers will start working on a 12 months base. This change will be done in three steps and the full job framework will be defined by 18 weekly hours. The salary’s rating will be determined by seniority, professional training and experience, starting from 120 to 180 NIS per hour.

Among the social benefits that will be added to the lecturers’ wage: transportation refund, convalescence pay, holidays pay and pension allocation in the rate of 18.33% of the lecturer’s pay. This is additionally to other rights assigned by law.

The elected workers committee will help to settle the working relations and the collective agreement and recruit the lecturers and all of the workers to work for the school’s success. The schools’ management will allocate up to 500 NIS per month to cover the workers’ committee expenses.

Gaston Ztvi Itskovitch, the chairman of the committee told The Union:

“The agreement is very important, not only for the school’s present but also for its future. The main thing is that the lecturers are finally coming to work in a place where they are being respected. This change of atmosphere will encourage accomplishments. The agreement will attract more lecturers, after they hear about the fair employment conditions, the 12 paychecks and the social rights. WAC did a precise work, and in fact the agreement would not have been signed if not for WAC. Other organizing attempts have failed in the past, but WAC succeeded to manage the negotiations without exploding them. Avi Sabag, the school’s manager, understood that a collective agreement is the right thing to do, and so he also deserves credit. The workers’ committee did a good job, combining both senior and young lecturers”.

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The Salit Quarry workers strike in the occupied West Bank Fri, 14 May 2010 14:55:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]> by Roni Ben Efrat

For the background of a three year struggle see:

The entire workforce of the Salit Quarry, organized by WAC-MAAN, gave the management 15 days of we strike is that management unilaterally ended negotiations for a collective agreement.

Yesterday, May 10, WAC’s General Director, Assaf Adiv, received frantic calls from management requesting cancellation of the strike and promising to hold discussions beginning May 17.

WAC answered that this offer is not a sufficient reason to cancel the strike. Management had the 15 days prescribed by law to come up with a solution to prevent it. WAC proposed instead that management sit down immediately for meaningful talks. Only in the event of fruitful negotiations would the strike be halted. WAC also wrote Eyal Caleb, the manager, that while negotiations are underway it will not withdraw the declaration of a work dispute. This withdrawal will take place only after the signing of a collective agreement to WAC’s satisfaction.

Today a general meeting of the entire workforce unanimously adopted the proposal to continue the strike until a meaningful offer was put on the table or until the beginning of marathon negotiations toward the signing of an agreement.

Call for support:

The dispute at Salit has entailed enormous legal expenses for WAC. We ask unions and labor centers to donate whatever they can to help us cover them. You may send donations to our bank account with a note WAC-SALIT. We also ask you to send a note naming your organization (Trade Union branch) and the amount of your donation to: Roni Ben Efrat (International Coordinator) at

Name of bank: Bank Leumi
Branch: 801
Name of Account holder: Workers Advice Center – Ma’an
Account: 101-537704
Address: Jerusalem boulevard # 1, Jaffa
IBAN: IL030108010000001537704

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Precedent-making decision in favour of 21 "temporary" workers and WAC-MAAN Sun, 14 Mar 2010 17:19:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Nir Nader

Regional Labor Court: Manpower Workers in Archaeology must be Employed Directly by IAA after 9 Months

Jerusalem’s Regional Labor Court, in a precedent-making decision, has ruled that workers employed many years by the Bric Personnel Company in projects of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) are entitled, after nine months, to be employed directly by the IAA, even if the projects in which they work have a contingent, temporary character. The court accepted the claims of members of the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN), who had joined with WAC in suing Bric and the IAA. They were represented by Attorneys Bassam Karkabi and Eran Golan.

The lawsuit was started a year ago, in March 2009, by 21 Palestinian workers, residents of East Jerusalem organized by WAC. Two months earlier they had received an oral notification from Bric that all who had worked nine months or more would be discontinued. In this way, the IAA attempted to sidestep Amendment 12A to the Personnel Companies Act, which specifies that everyone employed for nine consecutive months at a place of work by a personnel company must automatically become an employee of the firm requesting the work, in this case the IAA.

The suit of the 21 has implications for labor relations in the economy as a whole. It concerns the border where personnel company workers turn into staff under the direct employ of the firm whose work they do. The court decided that Amendment 12A affects not only the 21, but all who work in contingent, temporary jobs. That amounts to hundreds of thousands of workers.

The court also cancelled the dismissals of those among the 21 who had worked more than nine months, thus becoming, in effect, workers for the IAA.

The court rejected all the arguments presented by Bric and the IAA in which they claimed that the amendment does not apply in the case of these workers. It also rejected Bric’s claim that it is “only” a service contractor and that, consequently, the amendment concerning personnel companies has no application. The court determined that the intent of the Law on Employment of Workers by Personnel Companies, including the intent of Article 12A, is to protect the rights of people working under contractors, to ensure fair conditions, and to prevent inequality among various groups of workers, as follows (unofficial translation):

“The fact is that the legislator did not stop at full equalization between the job conditions of those working for the actual employer and those working under a contractor, but rather instructed, in an unqualified manner, that after nine months those working under a contractor shall become workers for the actual employer. This fact shows that the legislator did not rest with preventing the creation of different statuses and sought to achieve a more far-reaching goal: to totally prevent the employment of people as personnel-company workers for a period of more than nine months, also in cases where no discrimination is created between personnel-company workers and those working for actual employer—[that is, also in cases where no discrimination is created] because the work in question has a contingent/temporary character and all the workers of the same kind are employed through a personnel-company contractor. That is to say: The legislator sought to achieve a result of limiting the period in which one could employ contractor-workers at the place of the actual employer without distinction. According to this position, a division between ‘the job’ and ‘the employer,’ from the worker’s point of view, involves harm to the worker.”

WAC calls on the IAA to act in a manner befitting its station as a public body: to end the methods of debilitating employment, to accept at once, as IAA workers, all those whom Bric had illegally dismissed; to recognize all archaeological workers employed through Bric for more than nine months as IAA workers; and to ensure that all archaeology workers receive the benefits that are theirs by law.

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Women's Coalition for Fair Employment Thu, 04 Mar 2010 17:35:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A March of Working Women, followed by an Assembly, in Tel Aviv on International Women’s Day—March 8, 2010

Women’s Day—March 8, 2010

To mark International Women’s Day, WAC-MAAN and Ahoti have initiated a coalition of 15 organizations, including women’s groups, workers’ organizations and social movements. The coalition calls for reducing unemployment and establishing fair job conditions.

Participating groups: WAC-MAAN; Ahoti (My Sister)—for Women in Israel; Women’s Parliament; Hotline for Migrant Workers; Shin—the Israeli Movement for Equal Representation of Women; Anwar—Jewish and Arab Women’s Leaders; Sindyanna of Galilee; Koach La Ovdim – Democratic Workers’ Organization; Hila; Tmura Center—the Israeli Antidiscrimination Legal Center; Itach (With You)—Women Lawyers for Social Justice; Coalition of Women for Peace; Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit (the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow), Kol Ha’isha—the Woman’s Voice, and Nesichat HaMidbar—the Desert Princess.

Time and place: Tel Aviv, March 8. The march begins at 16:00 at the corner of Rothschild and Sheinkin, reaching Gan Meir on King George at 17:00, where we shall hold the assembly.

The coalition’s press release follows:

A neoliberal economic policy is returning Israel to days of darkness, cancelling many of the historic gains made by women’s and workers’ movements. Privatization is destroying the health, education and welfare systems. It is dismantling workers’ organizations. It is subjecting the society as a whole, and women especially, to economic and social insecurity.

Instead of presenting a program for struggle against unemployment and poverty, the government prefers to fight the workers. It encourages debilitating employment through personnel agencies. It directs the unemployed to the Wisconsin Program, which turns the destitute jobless into destitute workers. With its other hand, the government continues to spin the revolving door, deporting those foreign workers who have learned their rights while importing replacements, fresh for exploitation. The employers and agencies reap the profits, while workers lose their bargaining power, watching rights and wages shrink.

Between Arab and Jewish women the social gaps have narrowed. On the 8th of March we will stand together. We will demand our rights. We will say “No” to a policy that sanctifies profits, turning tycoons and speculators into celebrities at our expense. We will say “Yes” to work that respects us as women and sees us as partners in building society.

We call on you, therefore, to come out en masse to the demonstration on March 8.”

Among the speakers will be Asma Agbarieh Zahalka of WAC-MAAN; Shula Keshet of Ahoti; Ester Herzog of the Women’s Parliament; Shevi Korzen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers; Rabbi Idit Lev from Keepers of the Law—Rabbis for Human Rights; Wafah Tayara, representing WAC’s farm workers; Leah Ofri, who was recently dismissed by the Israel Antiquities Authority; Aliza Yada’ya and Fathiya Masarwa from the Personal Services Union of Koach La Ovdim; and Muna al-Khabanian of Nesichat HaMidbar (Princess of the Desert).

Music: Hadar and Yoel—Shevet Ahim, Shira z. Carmel

For more information, please call our spokespersons:

Asma Agbarieh Zahalka, WAC-MAAN: 0504-330037
Shula Keshet, Ahoti: 052-234-2449

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WAC – Maan Has Established a “Truck Drivers’ Parliament” on its Way to Founding a New Union Fri, 04 Dec 2009 17:59:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An initiative for a start a new truck drivers’ Union was launched by the WAC – Maan association on Saturday 14 November 2009 at a conference in its offices in Tel Aviv. The goal of the conference was defined as the initiation of debate and voicing of ideas for the establishment of a new drivers’ union. Around forty drivers and WAC – Maan members attended the conference. The event was organized following last month’s campaign in which tens of WAC – Maan members went around the Ashdod and Haifa ports, and other freight centers, handing out pamphlets and listening to drivers speak of their deplorable working conditions.

At the start of the conference WAC – Maan’s Director, Assaf Adiv, presented a detailed analysis and overview of the current situation in the freight industry: the conditions of exploitation and disregard for safety measures which typify the branch; the collective agreement in the industry which left a large window for the exploitation of drivers through payment by delivery assignments rather than by hours worked; a view of the legal situation in the field; and a comparison of the situation in Europe and European practices regarding hours driven and payment methods. In addition, several suggestions for possible action were debated with the drivers who attended the conference.

The debate was lively and reflected great enthusiasm and anticipation for bringing about a change in the present situation. One of the drivers defined it thus: “drivers represent a crucial vein in Israel’s economy. We supply the ports with work but there the average worker receives a salary of 15,000-20,000 shekels whereas we live off a measly 6,000 or 7000 for endless hours.”

All the drivers voiced the pain and frustration of lacking an organization or body to either speak or operate in their names. There was universal agreement in the conference that the Union of Transport Companies does not represent the interests of the drivers but rather the interests of the companies. There was agreement on the assessment that the root of the problem was the arrangement which allowed drivers to be paid on the basis of deliveries rather than remunerated for the amount of hours worked.

Several suggestions were agreed upon at the end of the discussion:

The drivers’ forum that gathered on November 14 represents the nucleus of a Drivers’ Parliament, which will meet regularly to discuss and establish a course of action to protect drivers’ rights.

WAC – Maan, through advising with the members of the drivers’ forum will initiate contact with various institutions and the media in an effort to form a public and credible body, which will serve as the base and voice for truck drivers in their dealings with the wider public and the establishment.

WAC – Maan will provide its offices, members and legal department for the drivers’ use. It will aim to spread information as extensively as possible, so that any driver who is employed in dangerous conditions, has been dismissed unlawfully, or has been injured in an accident, may receive comprehensive legal assistance.

Membership of WAC – Maan: The drivers’ forum will strive to sign on as many truck drivers as possible to a WAC – Maan registration form. Signing the registration form will serve as a kind of declaration by the driver of his support for the initiative of a drivers’ organization within WAC – Maan’s framework. Signing the registration form will not commit the driver to any payment at the moment. WAC – Maan will however encourage drivers who so wish, to become full WAC – Maan members through a monthly membership fee paid directly by the driver through his band account.

WAC – Maan and the drivers’ Parliament will look into the possibility of a regional conference either in the north or south, in order to make participation easier.

See the Workers Advice Center website at:

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Israel – Diggers Wages Wed, 02 Dec 2009 14:09:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Jonathan Ben Efrat, in Yedioth Aharanot

They earn NIS 2000 per month, are dismissed every nine months, and have few rights: meet the manual laborers of the Israel Antiquities Authority, employed via the personnel agency Brick.

When you take away a man’s livelihood, why not mock him too and trample him underfoot?” The Antiquities Authority: “We don’t have the resources to employ them directly.”

The dismissal notice came as a surprise to Yafa Miara. After nine months of intensive physical labor which earned her praise from the archeologists with whom she worked, she was compelled to leave behind the archeological digs.

Despite the fatigue, the long hours in the sun, and the dust and dirt, Miara (42), a resident of Ashkelon, found great satisfaction in her work: “I knew I was a good, professional digger,” she says. “Archeologists begged to work with me. They knew they could count on me, so why did I suddenly get fired? When they told me I could continue to work via the personnel agency, I didn’t understand the significance of it. In the south, many people work via such agencies. But when they dismissed me I suddenly understood that this was their way of denying me basic social rights.”

After a cooling-off period of a few months, Miara was called again by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) management. Lacking any other alternative, she returned to work via the personnel agency Brick Enterprises and Development.

The timing of Miara’s dismissal, like that of dozens of others in archeological sites, is not accidental. The Antiquities Authority, a government body under the Ministry of Culture, works systematically to avoid implementing Paragraph 12a of the amendment to the Law on the Employment of Workers by Personnel Contractors which came into force in January 2008. According to the amendment, at the end of nine months’ employment via a personnel agency, the company employing them in practice – in this case the IAA – must take on the workers in a direct employment relationship. The amendment was supposed to limit the ongoing employment of workers via personnel agencies, where they have no pension or other social benefits.

In February 2008, one month after the amendment came into force, the question of the agency workers came up in an internal discussion of the IAA management, in which IAA Director General Shuka Dorfman also took part. But despite the change in the law, nothing changed in the Authority’s employment policy: workers continued to be dismissed after nine months’ work so that they would not have to be granted permanent employee status.

We have to make sure that the workers are dismissed after nine months so that they don’t get dismissal compensation, like the Authority workers get,” Assistant Director General Shlomo Ashkenazi said during a management meeting on the issue, thereby revealing the Authority’s policy towards temporary workers. “In the coming months we’ll have to dismiss many.” Neither did Dorfman make any attempt to hide the fact that this was the Authority’s policy. It didn’t seem to bother those present at the discussion that the declared policy seemed to go against the law. “It must be understood that we can’t hire these 550 workers,” he said. “The IAA will use temporary workers and have no responsibility for their continued employment. The personnel agency will be responsible for this.”

The licensing department for personnel agencies at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor is currently investigating the employment framework of hundreds of personnel agency workers in IAA digs throughout the country. Brick, which recruits IAA workers, is at the center of the investigation. Allegations are also being investigated that Brick illegally subtracted money from workers’ wages as union organization and committee fees, even though the workers are not affiliated with any union. There are further allegations that Brick workers were paid via another agency, Shirom Services and Maintenance Ltd., even though this agency does not actually employ them and has no license to do so.

A surprise at the employment bureau

Until the mid-90s, most Antiquities Authority workers were employed directly and received permanent worker status. In addition to the minimum wage, they also received the social benefits that all public sector employees get. They may not have got rich, but they enjoyed a high level of employment security.

Today, with the changes in the labor market, when most government bodies prefer to employ via personnel agencies, the employment terms for archeological site workers have also been downgraded. Not one receives minimal social benefits, and even a monthly minimum wage is just a dream for many.

This group of workers is made up of the marginal groups of Israeli society: new immigrants, Arabs and residents of the country’s peripheral towns. Most workers come from Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, the towns of the “triangle” (the mainly Arab area around Wadi Ara) and East Jerusalem. Most are aged 45 and above, making it hard for them to integrate into the job market without professional training. Personnel agencies such as Brick and government bodies such as the IAA understand this very well.

Antiquities Authority workers get a pension, work clothes and vacation, as well as accumulating seniority benefits,” says an archeologist who knows the employment terms of personnel agency workers very well from his work with them during the last few years. “At Brick, they don’t get paid vacation, pension or seniority, and after nine months they get fired. In addition, they don’t get much respect either. It’s hard to describe this – anyone who complains finds himself without work. When you take away a man’s livelihood, why not mock him too and trample him underfoot if you can? And we’re talking about the Antiquities Authority, which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. It’s not a private business that just aims to maximize profits.”

Why don’t the archeologists speak out?

It’s hard to explain the behavior of academics and intellectuals who see and say nothing. But they are also under threat. When an archeologist asks what happened to Yafa or Sabata, who he knows and likes to work with, Brick says it’s not his business and that’s the end of the matter.”

Dani Ben Simhon, who coordinates the Brick case for the Workers Advice Center (WAC), first heard complaints against the personnel agency a year ago when thirty workers from East Jerusalem came to him after being dismissed at the end of nine months’ employment. Ben Simhon checked their pay slips and was surprised to discover that Brick subtracted NIS 30 each month from their wages for union organization and committee fees. “We questioned the workers and understood that they didn’t even have a workers committee. We checked with the Histadrut and discovered that the organization fees were not being passed on. It seems that the money ended up elsewhere, illegally. Do the math – 30 shekels multiplied by a few hundred workers multiplied by five years, and you get hundreds of thousands of shekels, and it’s not clear where they went. Some of the workers don’t read Hebrew and most of them don’t understand their pay slips. None of them noticed this, and we’re talking about huge sums that were subtracted from their wages and somehow disappeared. They just wanted to continue to work; they didn’t understand that they were stealing from them.”

Following an investigation, WAC decided to submit a claim at the labor court to reinstate the workers as permanent employees of the IAA. “One day they approached a group of dozens of workers and said simply, there’s no work – don’t come to work tomorrow. The workers got no written notice, no advance warning. And when they came to the employment bureau, they were amazed to see that Brick was hiring others in their place. We discovered that in January 2009 Brick asked the employment services for 70 new workers. That month, the employment bureau in East Jerusalem directed 93 workers to jobs at Antiquities Authority digs via Brick. When they told the workers that there was no more work, they were simply lying.”

In addition to the claim that Atts. Bassam Karkabi and Eran Golan submitted for the workers, WAC also requested that the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor initiate an investigation into the affair and revoke Brick’s license to operate as a personnel agency. Labor court judge Daniel Goldberg is expected to rule on the case within the next few weeks. The ruling will have far-reaching implications. This case comprises essential issues regarding the significance of the amendment, Paragraph 12a. “If the court rejects their claim, saying that they are temporary workers, it will prove that the law is meaningless. If the court accepts their claim, it will be an important precedent for other temporary workers in the labor market.”

This doesn’t concern them

In February, during the first hearing at the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, the Brick representative claimed that the workers were not dismissed, citing as evidence the fact that they received no letter of dismissal. An IAA representative added that they were sent home because there was no work because of January rains. Meanwhile, Brick was busy recruiting dozens of new workers to replace those dismissed.

During a hearing in April, Brick manager Eli Mizrahi acknowledged that Brick did indeed subtract thousands of shekels from workers’ wages for union organization and committee fees. He also admitted that the money was not transferred to the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) as required by law, but was passed back to company coffers. Mizrahi claimed that the money was used to buy hats and sun-cream for the workers. WAC noted that according to the law, the company is obliged to provide such articles for health and safety.

The company’s recruitment methods and humiliating treatment of workers were also exposed during the hearings. Evidence was heard that at the end of each workday, the workers were gathered and told who would be working the following day. The workers described these gatherings as humiliating experiences during which they had to beg to get onto the work roster. Since they receive no paid vacation, whoever doesn’t work doesn’t get a wage. Many times even those who arrived at the pick-up point at five in the morning were sent home because, it was claimed, there was no work for them. According to WAC investigations, Brick workers at IAA sites were employed for an average of only 15 days per month, and their wage was only about NIS 2000 per month.

Careful scrutiny of the employment terms of temporary workers reveals why the IAA prefers to employ via Brick. For each day of work, the IAA pays Brick NIS 242. Brick pays the worker only NIS 165.

The Antiquities Authority management is well aware of the temporary workers’ employment terms, everything is out in the open,” says a senior archeologist. “The workers turn to them to protest the way they are treated, but they don’t say anything, and cooperate [with Brick].”

The IAA management, it appears, is not happy about the archeologists’ support for the temporary workers. “It has to be borne in mind that the IAA archeologists assist the workers and turn them against the Antiquities Authority,” Assistant Director of Finance Benny Harpaz said during an internal IAA management meeting. “It must be remembered that the archeologists have no authority to do so. They shouldn’t act as the workers’ unofficial advisors because this harms the IAA.”

Renovation at rock-bottom prices

Brick owner Eli Chen was once the director general of the Tel Aviv employment bureau. Like his former colleagues, he is very familiar with Paragraph 12a and employment laws. However, at WAC they have a hard time understanding why nobody from the bureau questions the fact that the archeological workers return to the bureau to seek jobs every nine months, or the fact that the pay slips for ostensibly full-time work show such tiny sums. Chen, by the way, does not only maintain contacts at the employment bureau; he is also the brother-in-law of Shlomo Ashkenazi, IAA assistant director general.

It turns out that Chen has no scruples about using personnel agency workers for his own private needs. For example, he hired Fauzi Masalha, who worked through Brick at archeological sites, to renovate his wife’s beauty salon in Kfar Saba. “The work manager told me he had private work for me with Eli Chen,” explains Masalha (66). “After some haggling, we agreed on a low wage, 800 shekels for three days’ work, for me and a tiler’s assistant. We drove with the rest of the workers, and they got off at the dig while we continued to the beauty salon. I did great work for them, and he gave me 500 in cash. He said I would get the rest with the pay slip.”

Why did you agree to this?

Because I realized that if I went along with it, he would ensure I got work at the site and I wouldn’t have to beg each day for work. My friends, all above the age of 60, try to curry favor with the work manager by offering him coffee. I had it easy.”

It has since become apparent that the IAA and Brick turned a few other tricks at Masalha’s expense in order to avoid Paragraph 12a. During the year 2008, Masalha was employed as an archeological site worker for nine months. He was not fired at the end of this period, but neither was he taken on by the IAA as a permanent employee. Masalha discovered that for three months he had received his pay slip from the personnel agency Shirom. In February 2009 he “returned” to Brick. Thus, with the underhand maneuvers of the three companies, Masalha remained without seniority and social benefits, even though he had worked for more than a year at IAA sites. It must be noted that Shirom has never competed for or won an IAA tender. This appears to be a serious breach of the Obligation of Tenders Law that applies to government companies and public bodies such as the Antiquities Authority.

“I would be happy to work at the digs again,” says Miara. “It’s exciting work; you feel like you’re in touch with history. But I would return only on condition that the IAA employs me directly. It’s the least I deserve.”

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A call for messages of protest to the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Labor Tue, 14 Apr 2009 18:37:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Israeli Workers Advice Center  is calling for support for workers dismissed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority

WAC-MAAN calls on archaeologists and public-sector trade unions to support the struggle of 21 workers from East Jerusalem, who demand to be employed directly, with full social benefits, by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA). These workers, men aged 45-55 with years of experience, have been employed until now through a personnel company called Brik.

An Amendment to the Law on Personnel Companies (2008) stipulates that manpower workers be transferred to direct employment by the firm they are actually working for (the IAA in this case) after nine months. The 21 became eligible for direct employment in October 2008. The law was not applied. Instead they were fired, along with dozens of colleagues, all of those who had worked nine months or more, in January 2009. The dismissal was verbal, without a letter or severance pay. At the same time Brik sought 70 new workers from the Employment Service.

WAC-MAAN (the Workers’ Advice Center) an independent trade-union association of Arab and Jewish workers in Israel, calls upon archaeologists and others to express solidarity with the 21. The IAA and Brik have violated the stipulations of the 2008 Amendment. The workers should have been transferred to direct employment by the IAA.

United under WAC’s auspices, the workers applied to the Jerusalem Labor Court for repeal of their dismissal, claiming that, according to the Amendment, they should be employed directly by the IAA. Brik and the IAA opposed this claim. Brik also asserted that the workers had never been fired (they could not produce letters, of course). To prove its point, Brik re-hired some for a few days, but the 21 who dared speak out have had hardly any work in the last three months. These vindictive measures have brought many of their families to the verge of hunger.

The case is of major importance. About 650 workers, Arabs and Jews, are employed by the IAA through Brik. The result of this appeal will be applied to them. Second, in the Israeli labor market some 300,000 workers, more than 10% of the labor force, are employed through personnel companies, enabling firms to sidestep collective agreements. Success in this case will be a precedent liberating them from bondage to these companies and helping them secure their rights.

WAC’s plan of Action

WAC’s East Jerusalem Branch is leading the struggle of the workers on different levels:

1. It organized all 21 in WAC-MAAN, providing them with legal advice and help in procedures with the authorities.
2. Its lawyers, Bassam Karkaby and Eran Golan, presented a petition to the Jerusalem Labour Court on behalf of the workers.
3. A protest demonstration was organized on February 3 at IAA headquarters in East Jerusalem; reports on it were published widely in the local media.
4. A nation wide campaign has been initiated to collect donations and food supplies for the workers.
5. A solidarity concert will take place in Tel Aviv on April 24. All the revenues will go to cover the expenses of the legal battle and to support the workers while awaiting the court decision.

Sample testimonies from the workers

•A. was dismissed after six years at Brik. He had worked at archaeological digs in Ramle, Lod and Ras al-Amud. His salary was paid throughout this period by Brik. He says he never received holiday pay or sick pay, nor convalescence allowances, let alone pension payments. On Jan. 8, 2009, when the work day ended, a Brik representative told more than 50 workers at Ras al-Amud that according to his company’s policy, all those employed for more than 9 months would cease to be enrolled for work. On going to the Employment Bureau the next day, A. saw the officials of Brik interviewing candidates for the job.

•B. has been employed through Brik for about two years. His average monthly wage was about NIS 2,000, because he was only hired for 12 to 16 days each month. He received no holiday pay, sick pay, convalescence allowance or pension. He received no travel allowance either.

Express your solidarity. Protest with the workers!

Send the following message to the addresses below (or alternatively write your own). Please do not forget to send WAC ( )a copy.

We the undersigned have learned about the case of 21 workers from East Jerusalem who are demanding to be enrolled as proper workers in the IAA. The 21 were employed for years by the Brik personnel company while digging with the IAA. According to the 2008 amendment to Law of Personnel Companies (12A), they should have been recognized as workers of the IAA with full social rights. Instead they are being victimized because they dared to demand their rights. Please make sure that this injustice stops and that the rights of these workers are respected.

Write to:

1.Director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Mr. Shuka Dorfman
Through his spokesperson Ms. Yoli Shwartz
Fax 972-2-6287492

2.Minister of Trade,Industry and Labor, Mr. Benyamin Ben Eliezer
fax +972-2-6662909

3.Labor Relations Division – Ministry of Labor.
Mr. ShlomoYitzhaki – Director
Tel +972-2-6662793 Fax +972-2-6662971

4.Labor Relations Department – head of Bureau, Ms. Verd Ovadia

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WAC-Maan: stop Israel's war on Gaza Tue, 30 Dec 2008 20:45:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Press release: December 30, 2008

Arab Construction worker killed and 9 wounded as missile hits the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Monday

WAC-MAAN calls upon trade unions and the international labor movement to pressure their governments to stop Israel ’s war on Gaza

On Monday morning, Dec. 29, a Grad missile launched in Gaza hit a construction site in the Israeli city of Ashkelon . It killed Hani al Mahdi, 27 years old, from the Arab town of Aarara in the Negev . It also injured nine workers from the Arab village of Kufr Manda in Galilee .

These men, who were working to gain a decent life for their families, fell victim to Israel ‘s war on Gaza , which started Saturday and has so far killed 300 in Gaza , as well as injuring 1000. Among the killed and wounded are many civilians.

Israel claims that it is defending its citizens in the South. But these people are working-class, and the government has shown by its policies that the lives and security of workers mean nothing to it: its priorities are with the rich.

WAC-MAAN, an independent trade-union association, has been active for many years in Kufr Manda. Many construction workers, including those who were injured on Monday, are members and supporters of WAC, which acts day and night to defend the rights of workers in Israel , especially Arabs.

We know from our members that they have to travel 200 kilometers each day, like the nine who were injured in Ashkelon , just to find a place that is willing to hire them. Their tenuous job situation has caused them, in recent years, to work without social benefits at sites that threaten their safety and health. The government encourages the formation of a “precarious work force” in order to help employers and investors.

The same government that started the present war has sent tens of thousands into unemployment, while destroying the social security net in accordance with its neoliberal agenda.

WAC-MAAN opposes the war on Gaza and calls for an immediate cease fire. After the war ends, we know, hundreds of thousands on both sides of the border will remain poor and unemployed. Palestinian workers are shut jobless behind the separation wall, while their families languish in poverty and hunger. Israeli workers, for their part, are starting to feel the pinch of the global financial crisis, with higher levels of unemployment and further attacks on earlier social gains.

The killing of Hani al Mahdi on Monday brings to mind the situation of 1.2 million Arab citizens of Israel , whom the establishment routinely brands as disloyal. In reality, half the Arab families here live below the poverty line, although the national average is 20%. They live in towns without infrastructure or job opportunities, a result of discriminatory policies implemented since Israel was established 60 years ago.

WAC-MAAN calls upon trade unions around the world to pressure their governments for action that will force Israel to end its brutal attack on the Palestinians in Gaza , stop its occupation of Palestinian lands and accept the right of the Palestinians to self determination and peace.

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Egyptian workers impose a new agenda Sun, 01 Jun 2008 16:10:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Asma Agbarieh-Zuhalka of the Israeli Workers Advice Center reports on a trip to Egypt to meet activists in the new workers’ movement against the Mubarak regime.
The road from the airport to the hotel shows the story: modern buildings partly conceal dilapidated, crowded structures that seem on the verge of collapse. Ancient jalopies chug along as if by inertia, while the latest luxury models zip past them. Huge billboards advertise multinational corporations. All this goes side by side with centuries-old mosques of breathtaking beauty, witnesses to a time when Egypt was the center of Islamic culture—not just another third-world country offering the world cheap labor for exploitation. This was my first encounter with Cairo. Love at first sight.

I wasn’t there as a tourist. What brought me to Egypt with my colleague, Samia Nassar, was the wave of strikes which, since December 2006, has been shaking the regime of Hosni Mubarak. In 2007 there were 580 strikes, demonstrations and protests, involving between 300,000 and 500,000 workers. The number for 2008 is likely to be more than twice that, reflecting enormous hikes in food prices.

We spent three packed days, talking from early morning to late at night with representatives of political parties and workers’ organizations. One name cropped up again and again: Mahalla al-Kubra, the textile city, epicenter of the new labor movement.

With half a million people, Mahalla sits on the Nile Delta 120 km. north of Cairo and includes most of the textile plants. For example, the Misr Weaving and Spinning Company, founded in 1927, employs 27,000, making it one of the largest factories in the world. Its workers—in particular the women—started the first, now famous strike of December 2006. Neither it nor any in the wave that followed were government-approved—all were illegal.

One of the biggest strikes occurred in September 2007, when the workers at Misr Weaving temporarily took over the plant and established an independent security force to prevent the entry of management forces. They demanded bonuses that had been promised in December but not delivered. They demanded the dismissal of the CEO, who, they said, had defrauded them: the plant had made big profits but had not given them the share agreed on in December. They demanded removal of regime toadies from their Workers’ Committee. They made gains on all three counts.

Why does Mubarak yield at all to the demands, despite the illegality of the strikes? He’s scared that the effect of the textile strikers might spread to other industries. Egypt’s workers are too numerous and desperate. More than 40% of the country’s 80 million people live under the UN poverty line of $2 per day.

Consequently, the rise in world food prices is perceived here as a mortal threat. Mahalla’s response has led the way. Its textile workers, Egypt’s best organized, called for a new strike to take place on April 6.

People from other cities rallied in support. Using Facebook, SMS’s and blogs, a group of 70,000 youngsters ran a campaign called “Stay home!”— stay home, that is, from work, university or shopping on April 6. People did stay home. The streets of Cairo were noticeably quiet on April 6. Various political parties attempted to hitchhike on the campaign and proclaim a general strike—even a civil revolt. The workers warded off these premature calls.

The regime’s plainclothes police anticipated the disturbances, entering Mahalla three days before. They occupied the troublesome factories, waited for the employees and escorted them to their machines, threatening any who did not work with imprisonment. After the company added a carrot to the stick, promising wage hikes, the workers deferred the strike. Nevertheless, demonstrations began in the late afternoon of April 6, the number of protestors rising to 20,000 or more, including workers, their families, the unemployed and people waiting on bread lines. They chanted against the government’s price increases and police brutality. At least three demonstrators were killed by police fire, dozens were wounded and hundreds arrested. Confronting the police, the demonstrators demanded release of the prisoners.

When Samia Nassar and I arrived in Egypt almost three weeks later (April 24), Mahalla was tense, the police were in occupation, and we could not get in. We talked with activists in Cairo, who were still mulling over what had happened.

The origin of the workers’ strikes may be found in the government’s 1991 decision to globalize. After signing agreements with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the regime began to privatize factories, banks, hotels and even those retail chains that till then had been under government ownership. The attempts at privatization that took place between 1991 and 2002 were inconclusive, however, and from 2002 until 2004 they were frozen. Then Mubarak appointed Ahmad Nazif as prime minister, and he gave the process an energetic push. Already in his first year, Nazif privatized 17 firms. He continues doing so today.

The cotton and textile industries belong mostly to the public sector, an inheritance from the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Misr Weaving and Spinning Company has not been privatized yet, although the workers are very concerned about this possibility: they fear that it would lead, as elsewhere, to dismissals. Their protest focuses on other issues too, especially the low wages and the hikes in food prices. Another complaint concerns their official union. The Workers’ Committee of Misr Weaving belongs to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which they criticize for its cozy relations with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. There are courageous attempts to create alternative workers’ committees within the plants at Mahalla. These committees, though independent, find support among political parties and movements, including some of the people we met.

Take, for instance, the issue of salary. A senior worker at Misr Weaving earns about $80 per month, including bonuses, fringe benefits and overtime. The UN, as said, defines poverty in Egypt at $2 per person per day. Since an Egyptian worker supports, on average, 3.7 persons, a salary of $80 per month means $0.72 per person per day. Faced with the prospect of the April 6 strike, the company agreed to raise the basic monthly pay for workers at all levels, but even if this agreement is fulfilled, the very best-paid workers at Misr Weaving (those with college degrees) will earn—after bonuses—only $180 per month, which is still far below the poverty line ($224).

The textile workers are among the worst paid in the public sector (this sector has 6 million people, in a workforce of 22 million), but the others are also in poverty. We heard about doctors, for instance, who moonlight as taxi drivers. In the private sector, the pay is slightly better, but job insecurity is high and conditions are miserable.

Until December 2006, most public-sector workers refrained from rocking the boat, preferring job security at low pay over the uncertainty of privatized firms. Now they can no longer hold back: the overall cost of food has increased by 26% in the last year. Prices of bread and grains have risen by 48%, fruits and vegetables by 20%, meat by 33% and chicken by 146%, bringing people to the point of explosion.

Among the leaders we met were members of the Workers’ Coordinating Committee for Trade Union Rights, formed by various leftist organizations. It gives counsel and guidance to striking workers. We also met people from the Tajammu Party, the Nasserist party al-Karama, the Solidarity Committee with the Agrarian Reform Peasantry, Doctors without Rights, Engineers against Oppression and others.

I will not conceal the excitement we felt when we sat opposite the veteran leaders of Egypt’s Left who patiently and modestly answered our many questions. Ala Kamal, who volunteered to organize the meetings, was astonished to find that people were ready to talk with us. In Egypt this cannot be taken for granted. We were representing, after all, organizations in which Arabs and Jews work together, namely the Organization for Democratic Action (our political party) and the Workers Advice Center. In the last decade the “Anti-Normalization Movement” in Egypt has cultivated a hostile attitude not merely toward Israel but even toward the Arabs living there, lumping us together with the Zionist camp.

From the very first meeting we could sense hints of this attitude. After we’d made it clear that we’d come to express solidarity with the Egyptian workers, we were told by a veteran leftist who asked to remain anonymous: “Your task won’t be easy. Personally, I’m a communist and an internationalist, and I’ll be happy to talk with you, but the violence used by Israel recently, and the dominant national and Islamic discourse, have sown confusion in the ranks of the Left. In the past we were more precise. We distinguished between Zionism and Judaism. Today the situation is different.”

Nevertheless, the ice quickly broke at all our meetings. The common interest prevailed. This was no accident. The awakening of the workers has ushered in a new dialogue of solidarity.

We found general agreement that the struggles which began in Mahalla, and which are spreading to new sectors, amount to the birth pangs of a labor-union movement.

This movement is spontaneous. It unites around concrete demands for economic rights, such as salary hikes and freedom of organization. It is not dominated by any of the existing political forces, including the Left. Natural leaders are emerging.

A new dialogue

Saber Barakat, a leading figure in the Coordinating Committee, told us: “The results of the privatization policy have been devastating for the workers and the poor. Between 1996 and 2006, 750,000 workers were pensioned off, each for a one-time payment of 20 to 30 thousand pounds [$3700 - $5500]. At the end of the 1990′s, the regime even began offering the feudal lords the lands that Nasser had confiscated. Between 2003 and 2005, many of the poor peasants were expelled from their lands because they couldn’t keep up various payments. They were left without livelihood. Having no choice, they drifted into the cities, living on their margins, a thing that has added to the unemployment and suffering.”


Privatization has turned out to be a boomerang, because as soon as the workers understood they had nothing to lose, the barricade of fear was broken. Hamdi Hussein, one of the labor leaders at Mahalla, met with us in Cairo. He said: “From 1994 until December 2006 the labor movement was frozen. These years saw no cadres develop with political awareness or with the energies needed to organize a strike. But everything changed in December 2006. A new phenomenon appeared: militant workers, though lacking political background. Many women stood out among them. In general, they belong to no organization or party. There was a need to start from scratch, to create active committees with the aim of educating the workers, giving lectures and organizing leadership courses.”

Saber Barakat added: “Since the first years of this decade we have thought about building independent labor unions. The Coordinating Committee is to some extent an implementation of this idea. It was founded in 2001, well before the wave of strikes. I myself left the Steelworkers’ Union after eight years as its General Secretary. I had reached the conclusion that unions like that were hopeless. We raised a cry for building democratic unions that would be independent of the ruling party, indeed of all political parties as well as businessmen. On the other hand, it’s clear to us that the union will also need to cope with the problems arising from the lack of free speech.”

The workers’ movement imposed a new political agenda. The struggle for power till now has been between the Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, the discourse has been national or Islamic. We heard about the suppression of liberal writers and about disturbances concerning the veil. Now, however, something new has happened. Ever since the workers raised their heads, there is no ignoring them. They have put themselves on the map.

The importance of the new labor movement consists in its independence from all the existing political forces, including the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Left in its various branches. The working class has raised a new social agenda, which it has moved to the center of public discussion.

Until now the political arena could be summed up thus: the regime vs. the Muslim Brothers. This equation tied the hands of the traditional Left, such as the Tajammu. Not wanting to be associated with the Muslim Brothers, they often found themselves lining up with Mubarak.

The liberal Kifaya (“Enough!”) movement challenged this bipolar politics in 2004, when it went out to demonstrate against Mubarak’s one-man rule. But Kifaya lost momentum in tandem with the lessening of American pressure to democratize. Kifaya reflected petit-bourgeois and intellectual strata that demanded, basically, political rights. The social-economic issue was not on its agenda. Kifaya was not conjoined with the day-to-day hardships of the population, although today it does support the new labor movement.

The advantage of this movement, in contrast, is that the demands for fair wages, for the right to organize, and for freedom of speech have the ability to unite all social levels—and not on the basis of religion, rather on that of a broad democratic agenda. This agenda suits textile workers, clerks, doctors, and engineers—in short, all walks of life.

That is what frightens the Mubarak regime. It is why he has mobilized all his forces to put down the new labor movement. He understands that Mahalla al-Kubra has become a symbol for Egypt as a whole. Nevertheless, in the interest of his own political survival he cannot ignore what is happening. He has been forced to return again and again to the economic situation. On the First of May, accordingly, he promised to raise salaries in the public sector by about 30%. Fulfillment may be another story.

The Muslim Brothers too have been surprised by the force of the labor movement. After trying to downplay the events of April 6, even announcing they would not take part in the strike, they have had to backtrack. Now they claim to be leading the movement!

The workers see globalization as an economic and political problem, while the Muslim Brothers view it, through their ideological prism, as a cultural one. Globalization is bad, in their eyes, not because it privatizes firms and impoverishes workers, but because it represents the West, infidel values and permissiveness.

Precisely for this reason, the regime prefers the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose religious worldview doesn’t threaten the foundations of the economic order and cannot unite the whole people behind it. Moreover, the Brotherhood is radically anti-democratic. It presents no alternative to the capitalist regime and privatization. Further, the regime uses it to frighten people about western values, democracy among them.

Because the Muslim Brotherhood approves the existing economic order, the workers see it as part of the problem. We heard the following from Bashir Saker, a representative of the Solidarity Committee with the Agrarian Reform Peasantry: “They are with the bosses against the workers, they are with the feudal lords against the peasants, and their propaganda plays a role that causes demoralization in the farmers’ resistance movement.”

A chance for the Left

The awakening of labor has surprised not just the regime but also the various leftist movements. The Egyptian Left includes a broad spectrum of national Nasserites and socialist organizations. They have acted behind the scenes, but never as an organized force. Of the many leftist groups we met, none denied this fact. On the contrary, they readily agreed.

The Communist Party is outlawed, but 30 years ago Anwar Sadat established a party called Tajammu and announced to the leftists that it would be theirs. Legality had its price, however. The Tajammu became ever less attractive and less relevant in the public eye. This showed, for example, in its electoral decline from 5 seats in the year 2000 to just 2 in 2005. (The ruling regime has 311 seats and the Muslim Brotherhood, 88.) The party newspaper, al-Ahali, dropped in circulation from 120,000 to 30,000. But the latest events on the labor front have opened new horizons. The Tajammu will continue as a legal party, but some of its members, with this new field to work in, have gone underground and re-organized as the outlawed Communist Party.

More important are socialist organizations that have chosen to remain outside the Tajammu because of the latter’s closeness to the regime. They are active today in the Coordinating Committee, and they are trying to build leftist parties with legal status.

There is another encouraging sign as well. Until now, in the absence of a workers’ movement, the section of the Left that sought to distance itself from Mubarak had no population to work with, so it limited its activity to supporting the Palestinian national movement. In the year 2000 it backed the Intifada, and especially Hamas, which it saw as leading the resistance. Now, however, the workers’ struggle has made a new approach possible, neither national nor Islamic. It is opening a third, internationalist alternative. Since the start of the awakening, the labor movement has provided the Left with its natural environment, and there is the feeling that leftist forces are again on their feet.

The new labor movement in Egypt has put the working class on the map, both locally and in the wider Arab world, which suffers from similar economic, social and political conditions. The echoes from Mahalla have penetrated the world as a whole. That is the movement’s most important achievement to date. It has shown that the choices in the Arab world need not be confined to Islamic fundamentalism or secular dictatorship. 






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