East Jerusalemites at the Wadi Joz employment bureau this week.
East Jerusalemites at the Wadi Joz employment bureau this week. Photo by Emil Salman
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Besieged by requests from tens of thousands of out-of-work East Jerusalem residents, the employment bureau in the Wadi Joz neighborhood routinely violates the rights of unemployed persons, according to a report released last week by the Workers Advice Center.

The report says the employment office incorrectly classifies those seeking help as being uninterested in holding a job. It also accuses bureau officials of displaying "bullying behavior," and of intimidating job seekers.

The WAC report details the case of Tahar Habruman, a 33-year-old from Beit Hanina, who was dismissed in 2009 after several years of work as a laborer at Antiquities Authority excavation sites. Habruman was referred to the employment bureau, where he was told that work was available for him at the Western Wall tunnel project. But, he said, "They also told me that a criminal file was opened against me in the past, and so there was a chance I would not be admitted to the Western Wall square."

Habruman believed that the employment bureau was trying to find an alternative work site for him. Yet after a few weeks he was stunned to discover that he had been classified as a worker who refuses employment possibilities, a designation that renders a citizen ineligible for unemployment benefits.

He appealed to the employment bureau's chief, Moshe Bakar, who clarified that he had been classified as a work-refuser since he declined a job on the Western Wall tunnel project. "I tried to explain that I hadn't declined this offer, but it didn't help," Habruman said.

With the help of WAC officials, Habruman twice appealed the decision to cut-off his unemployment allowance. Both petitions were rejected. On the third try, after the WAC managed to involve the employment bureau's legal counsel, Habruman was allowed to state his case to an appeals committee. But the committee rejected his claim.

Habruman remained unemployed until October 2010, when he returned to work for the Antiquities Authority. A private employment agency, rather than the employment bureau, placed him in that job. In July 2011, 18 months after he was originally dismissed by the Antiquities Authority, the WAC turned to the National Labor Court in Jerusalem. The court ruled that the work-refusal designation should be deleted from Habruman's file and he should receive three months of unemployment benefits, plus an additional NIS 500 in compensation.

The court's deputy president, Judge Eyal Avrahami, leveled sharp criticism against the employment bureau's handling of the case, and called on "responsible officials to study these mistakes and correct them." Avrahami also rebuked the bureau's appeals committee, which, he said unnecessarily delays proceedings, causing the appellant to lose income, and serves as a "rubber stamp for the bureau's bureaucrats."

Omar Karaki, a 33 year old man from Issawiya, has a story similar to Habruman's. Karaki turned to the employment bureau when he was seeking work in January. "The bureau director, Bakar, proposed that I work as a truck driver to transport alcohol," he said. "I said I had no problem driving a truck, but I noted that I am a religious man who cannot dismantle boxes of alcoholic drink. I said that if somebody were hired to handle these boxes, I would accept the job, of course."

Karaki said that Bakar promised to look for someone to deal with the boxes. Therefore, he was confused when at the end of January, he did not receive his unemployment benefits. When he checked into the matter, he too was told that he had been designated as a work-refuser, since he had declined the truck driver job.

Karaki demanded that the bureau give him an official document listing his classification so that he could cite the form in a petition to the appeals committee. Bakar refused to furnish such a document. When, with WAC assistance, Karaki appeared before the appeals committee, he was told that "there are no procedures for recording classifications of work refusal." And when WAC representatives then read the clauses in Israeli labor law that mandate suitable documentation of this designation, committee members said they never heard that part of the law. But, the committee concluded that Karaki's claims were reasonable, and his designation as a work-dodger was expunged.

Yaakov Benishvili, head of the bureau's appeals committee, said he is "not prepared to disclose any form conveying a work-refusal designation," and he denied that there is any such duty of disclosure, claims the WAC report.

Karaki is also quoted in the report as saying that Bakar would often send three or four people to work at the same job. "Once he sent me to a job in Modi'in. I told the work foreman that 'Moshe sent me,' and he replied that two other people had already arrived ... The same thing happened to me at a restaurant in Atarot. Why is it fair to give people such a run-around?"

The WAC report contends that despite the criticisms against it, the NII employment bureau in East Jerusalem has not changed its procedures. Bureau officials continue to violate legal norms when dealing with those seeking work, the report charges.

According to the WAC, 85 percent of women and 40 percent of men in East Jerusalem are unemployed. The report alleges that those seeking work are forced to wait outside the bureau's office building for long hours, sometimes in the scorching sun or the rain. In many cases, they never get into the building. "In this difficult reality, unemployed persons come to regard the employment bureau as a stone wall which casts contempt and disdain for their dignity and fundamental rights," the report contends.

The employment bureau told Haaretz the allegations should be discussed in "petitions submitted to the High Court, and not in a newspaper." As for the specific cases cited in the report, the bureau said "there is a need to conduct a review with the relevant parties at the bureau, and also to consider the response of the chairman of the appeals committee."