Security guards in East Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods and at West Bank crossings are trying to unionize, but the company that employs them, Modi'in Ezrachi, has fired one labor council chairman and summoned two others for hearings.
Several hundred workers are employed in East Jerusalem's two large private security projects - one protects Jewish neighborhoods near East Jerusalem's Arab villages and one staffs the border crossings that Palestinians use.
In the first project, hundreds of security guards are employed by Modi'in Ezrachi, the company that won a Housing Ministry tender worth tens of millions of shekels. In the second, Modi'in Ezrachi works with two other security firms through a Defense Ministry tender.
The company's employees in both projects say management is infringing on their rights and that money they are entitled to is not being transferred to them.
"They are making money at our expense," says one employee. "The state is paying a lot of money for security. The problem is that the guard is not receiving everything he is entitled to."
Most of the complaints touch on incomplete payment into pension and worker compensation funds, as well as benefits such as travel expenses and clothing. Complaints have also been lodged about conditions at the guard posts.
Security guards began unionizing about six months ago, especially those who work at the City of David National Park and in the Jewish neighborhood in Silwan. But in August, by when they had formed a representative council, management fired the chairman, Rodion Doker.
"I didn't receive a letter of dismissal; they simply stopped giving me shifts," says Doker, who had worked for Modi'in Ezrachi for more than five years. "Until we set up the council, they had no problems with me. I was a model security guard."
Doker says the guards do not receive full pay for overtime, night shifts and per diem expenses. "The person who wrote the tender was very concerned about our welfare - all the conditions are written into the tender," says Doker. "But we don't receive them. Wherever they can take from us, they take."
This week, Doker's replacement as council chairman, Alon Eitan, received a summons to a hearing prior to dismissal; management claimed he engaged in labor dealings during training hours. He too had been considered a good worker until he began to help unionize.
A third employee involved in council matters, Boaz Shapira, also received a hearing summons last week after he missed a shift to attend a funeral.
"The thing about this work is that they can always find reasons," says Shapira. "At the beginning, they would say they were dismissing you because of the council. But now they've learned."
The workers say that nearly every employee who leaves the company files a lawsuit against it and usually receives, through a compromise settlement, several thousand shekels for every year worked.
Haaretz has learned that last year the company signed out-of-court settlements involving more than 40 workers employed on security projects in Jerusalem. Each worker received between NIS 10,000 and NIS 20,000, on average.
"The situation today is 10 times better than in the past," says attorney Moshe Ben-Shimol, whose firm has represented many of the workers. But if every employee who contacts his company receives thousands of shekels per year worked, "we still have a lot of work ahead of us."
One employee, Shai Zaken, says that after he contacted an attorney in order to to sue, he quickly found himself without work. "I was an outstanding employee, I received commendations," he says. "All of a sudden, after I sent a letter, they started to play around with me, transferring me from place to place, making things unpleasant. In the end, they tell you that you're unsuitable and that you're being transferred for reassignment."
A representative of the Bema'aglei Tzedek organization that helped the workers unionize says the case shows that "even a strong group of workers, with a developed awareness of their rights" is not immune from exploitation.
"It only makes you wonder what happens in workplaces with weak employees," says Martin Weiler, who directs Bema'aglei Tzedek's contract workers initiative. Modi'in Ezrachi did not respond to queries for this article.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now