MK Dov Khenin: New law would make foreign caregivers slaves

Foreign caregivers and progressive forces expressed deep concern on Monday that new legislation by the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) turns caregivers into modern-day slaves. The new law binds workers to a certain geographical location, makes it more difficult to change jobs and find new employment.


Caregivers demonstration, last Saturday, in Jerusalem (photo: MAKI)

Monday the 18th Knesset opened its 2011 Summer Seat. On the first day of this Knesset seat, a very dangerous bill brought to the Knesset for its second-third (i.e. final) reading. This bill is the “Slavery Law,” which aims to restrict the conditions of migrant workers in the nursing professions.

According to this law, the Minister of Interior will have the power to bind migrant caretakers to their employers; to subsections of nursing services; to a set number of employers they may switch; and to a specific geographic location in which they may work. This law constitutes an attempt to restore the previous arrangement that bound migrant workers to their employers, and which the Supreme Court has already criticized in 2006 as “a modern form of slavery“.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said the law is illegal and counter to the Supreme Court decision made in 2006. “The law will hurt the basic rights of migrant workers, especially women,” he said in the Knesset debate, adding that the government had turned its back on its responsibilities to the elderly and disabled publics, placing it instead on the shoulders of foreign workers. “The new law would make foreign caregivers slaves”, said Khenin.

“Caregivers cannot afford to get to a point where they lose their visas because of these new restrictions,” said Noga Shafer, coordinator of Koach L’ovdim–Democratic Workers’ Organization in Jerusalem. “Many pay as much as $10,000 to manpower companies in order to come to Israel. They have to borrow that money or take out loans and usually spend their first few years here paying it back,” Shafer said.

Shafer, whose organization represents hundreds out of some 30,000 legal caregivers in Israel, said this issue spurred migrant workers for the first time to speak out for their rights. On Saturday night, a hundreds caregivers gathered opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to make clear their disdain for the new law.

The Caregivers Union, which is working together with Kav La’Oved (The Worker’s Hotline) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the change in law is a throw-back to the regulations that tied migrant workers to their employers, overturned by the Supreme Court in 2006.

“If there was a law stating that Israeli workers could not quit their jobs or could not move to a different part of the country, then no one would think twice about whether this was right or wrong, but because this law is about foreign workers it passes very easily,” said Idit Lebovitch, caregiving field coordinator for Kav La’oved. “We do not see any difference between the rights of foreign workers or Israeli workers. All workers should have rights,” she said.

“Even though they are not Israeli, we still have to fight to protect their rights and make sure they are able to choose. If this law is really implemented then it will once again create slavery conditions,” Lebovitch said. She said no other capitalist country imposes such restrictions on migrant caregivers and that within the European Union, foreign workers who spend over five years in a country are entitled to request citizenship.

More on the “Slavery Law”:

The Supreme Court on the bill (In English):