Following petitions to Israel’s High Court of Justice by a Hadash MK and NGOs, the far-right, neo-liberal government decided on Friday, April 17, to rescind one of the anti-worker Emergency Regulations it had adopted a week earlier, allowing employers to place on unpaid leave women who are pregnant, undergoing fertility treatments or who are on maternity leave.
This draconian regulation took effect 11 days earlier, and resulted in thousands of women being sent home on unpaid leave. Following the rescinding of this particular regulation, employers wishing to suspend or fire women in these categories will need to obtain special permission to do so from the Labor Ministry, in accordance with the 1954 legislation which prohibits such measures. However, women who had already been placed on unpaid leave by their employer will not be automatically reinstated in their place of work. Instead, like all other workers who have been put on leave without pay, they can apply for unemployment benefits.
The government’s reversing of this emergency regulation came in the wake of two appeals to the High Court of Justice, which the state was due to respond to by yesterday, Sunday, April 19. One of the petitions was filed by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, in the name of Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash). The other petition was filed by Attorney Idit Zimmerman from the Workers’ Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, together with other human rights organizations, represented by Attorney Ori Turkia-Shelas.
The Ministry of Labor told Haaretz that the number of requests to place on unpaid leave women employees meeting one of the criteria detailed above has spiked since the COVID-19 outbreak. “There are usually 1,000 such requests per year, but we’ve had more than 9,000 just since March,” said an official at the ministry. “Now, many of these women can apply for unemployment insurance for March and April. After overcoming the bottleneck of unaddressed requests, the emergency regulations were suspended.”
Communist MK Touma-Sliman, who heads the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, said that the government’s rescinding of the emergency regulations is an admission that damage has been done to thousands of women. “The government is abandoning its female citizens, allowing their unlawful firing. We would welcome this decision if all the women who were fired could appeal their employer’s decision and go through a lawful procedure,” she said. Attorney Sausan Zahar from Adalah said there was “no justification for the legitimization of causing such harm to women’s rights that are anchored in law, particularly not by using emergency regulations. The legal validity of putting women on a leave of absence must now be looked into.”
The emergency regulation that has been rescinded illegally trumps the Employment of Women Law of 1954 and apply during the period of the coronavirus. The 1954 Employment of Women Law prohibits the dismissal of pregnant workers, and limits their discharge after having given unless employers obtain a special permit from the Labor Ministry. The ministry may provide this permit following a hearing in which the woman is legally represented. Women also have the right to appeal to the labor courts if they consider themselves as having been harmed by the ministry’s permit.
Regarding the far-right government attitudes, MK Touma-Sliman stated, “In times of emergency and epidemic, people are injured, and the state has a duty to provide protection and a health and economic safety net. It is inconceivable that, in the name of the emergency, laws aimed at protecting citizens – particularly women – are being eradicated. Women are being discriminated against in the job market in ordinary days and every day of the week during these difficult times. In its decision on these Emergency Regulations, the government ignores the women members of the public.”