Early this morning, the Knesset approved in second and third readings an amendment to the Work and Rest Hours Law which allows the Labor and Social Services Minister to define and limit the conditions under which government employees or employees of state-owned entities may be employed on the Sabbath.
The amendment passed by a margin of 50 to 38.
According to the amendment, the Welfare Minister must take into account certain factors before granting a permit to employ workers on Shabbat. These include “employee welfare, the tradition of Israel, [whether an] alternative that does not require employment during the weekly rest day [exists], and the extent of harm caused to the public sphere.”
The explanatory notes to the bill asserted that "recently, it became clear that government bodies such as Israel Railways and the National Roads Company have turned the Sabbath into a preferred day for carrying out infrastructure work on Israel's roads and railways. These projects, which are carried out in public, manifest serious harm both to the Jewish character of the state and to the feelings of millions of religious and traditional residents of the State of Israel."
"In addition, the projects also harm workers, including many Jews whose tradition is important to them, who are forced to leave their families, go to work on the day of rest and desecrate the Sabbath. Some of the workers belong to the weaker sectors of the society and are forced to work on Shabbat, fearing they will lose their work on the other days of the week if they refuse to work on Shabbat."
The law enables the minister to allow workers to be employed during the weekly rest day if he is convinced that stopping work for such a rest day could harm the security of the state or of a particular property or entity, or if it could harm the economy, a work in process or essential provisions for the public or part of it.
Labor and Social Services Minister Katz said earlier this month that "since I received the authority over work permits for the weekly day of rest, I maintained the proper balance between the vital needs and public sensitivities while showing consideration for workers welfare. The new amendment will allow considerations of worker welfare, Jewish tradition and the level of harm to the public arena to be taken into account."