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The Manufacturers Association yesterday petitioned against the Ministry of Industry and Trade and its minister, Ehud Olmert, after the government decided to sharply raise the minimum wage applicable to foreign workers employed in industry.

The petition, delivered via a trio of lawyers, asks the High Court of Justice to suspend the ministry resolution, which dates from December 2005.

The Manufacturers Association also protests against the new procedure the ministry handed down for requesting to employ foreign workers in industry. Under the new rules, a permit will only be granted if the employer undertakes to pay a minimum wage of no less than NIS 6,000 a month, rising gradually to NIS 15,000 a month by July 2007.

The president of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh, claims in the petition that Israeli industry employs only 1,500 foreign workers, but they are crucial to the companies and therefore are key to the employment of tens of thousands of Israelis.

He professed astonishment that the Ministry of Industry and Trade rejected the compromise that the Manufacturers Association had suggested, which was that the new rules not apply until a High Court ruling on a petition that 51 companies filed in October 2004 against the planned hike in minimum wage for foreign workers.

"Government policy is to reduce the employment of foreign workers and to replace them with Israeli workers," the Ministry of Industry and Trade commented for this report. "Since there is an available supply of foreign workers willing to work for low pay, employers have no incentive to raise pay to a level that would attract unemployed Israelis to the jobs.

"To change that situation, the decision was made to gradually raise wages for foreign workers. The high level is designed to enable the employment only of experts who cannot be replaced by Israelis."