Benjamin Netanyahu certainly didn't miss the opportunity. If anyone thinks our finance minister lacks a social conscience, think again. Just look at how many times he used the word "social" in his speech: "We are making a fundamental change in the social map of Israel and bringing about a social reform of historic proportions ... This is an important day in the history of the state's economic and social policy ... This is a great day, these are great tidings, this is an important change by international standards." For a moment, I thought I was listening to a reenactment of the declaration of independence.
But the truth is much less historic - and much murkier. Netanyahu presented his mandatory pension scheme as if it were a great development - but what will he tell all the minimum wage earners who are unable to get through the month even without deducting 7.5 percent of their monthly salaries for their pensions? And what will he say to the workers who are fired because their employers cannot afford to contribute to their pensions? These workers will now be worse off: Not only will they still not have a pension, but they will also lose their salaries. Yet given the economic situation, a mandatory pension law certainly will result in firings, as well as wage cuts. Moreover, it will give employers additional reasons for preferring Palestinians, foreign workers or anyone willing to work under the table to legal Israeli workers.
There is also another problem: The 600,000 (and not one million) workers without pension insurance are also those who earn the least, and who therefore have permanent overdrafts. Thus on one hand, they will be paying the bank 14 percent interest on the additional overdraft they take out to replace their pension deductions - but on the other, they will earn only 5 percent interest on their pension savings! This is the height of financial absurdity.
Therefore, this is neither a "social reform of historic proportions" nor "a great day." It is a difficult choice between competing interests that needs to be thought over carefully. Thus it might be preferable to legislate only a general framework and allow the Histadrut and the employers to negotiate the details. After all, they know better than the Knesset what the workers and the economy really need.
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