The government is prepared to go a very long distance in order to protect the rights of contract workers, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Monday. Speaking Monday morning before a meeting with Histadrut Labor Union chairman Ofer Eini, Steinitz said that the Treasury would impose strict rules on companies that provide contract workers for government offices and private businesses.
Companies that do not follow the law, he said, would be prosecuted and fined for failing to pay proper wages or providing pension plans for workers, as required by law for contract workers as well as unionized workers. In addition, they would be banned from bidding on tenders for government contracts.
The Histadrut called a strike Monday – which, in the end, was limited to only four hours, as ordered by the National Labor Court – over the issue of the contract workers, who are hired as temporary workers and are not eligible for some benefits of full-time, unionized workers.
The Histadrut has been demanding that all contract workers in government offices be given the same salaries and benefits as regular full-time workers. Steinitz has been resisting that idea, saying that it is far too expensive.
There is another side to the story. Many private companies do not allow unionization even when they pay higher salaries and give benefits because the Histadrut's bylaws do not allow hiring and firing according to workers' performance on the job. Workers get tenure after a specified work period (one to two years) and then the last hired must be the first fired in case of layoffs. Unsatisfactory union workers who have tenure are almost impossible to fire.
Speaking before Monday's meeting, he said, however, that “I am positive that with good will, the Histadrut chairman and I will be able to find a solution that will be good for the economy.”
After the meeting, Steinitz said that the government would hire 200 contract workers currently working in hostels for elderly Holocaust survivors as full-time workers.
Speaking at a financial industry event Sunday, Steinitz said that one lesson of the contract worker issue was that Israelis needed to be better educated on fiscal matters. “No one understands their pension plans, and many Israelis make important decisions about their savings and investments without understanding anything about them. We must develop an educational system that will help Israelis learn about these matters, in order to help them advance and grow,” Steinitz said.
He said that the government would in the next few weeks propose a Knesset bill to develop government-funded financial information education programs for Israelis of all ages.