A caregiver with an elderly woman
A caregiver with an elderly Israeli woman in Tel Aviv (illustrative). Photo by Ariel Shalit
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The High Court of Justice ruled this week that Israeli labor laws governing work and rest hours do not apply to live-in caregivers. This decision, made following a second hearing with an expanded bench, does serious harm to the human rights of an already weak group. It removes the shield of protective labor laws − laws from which employers should not be allowed to deviate.

In most cases, the people employed in this difficult and demanding position are migrant workers who do the job that most Israelis cannot or do not want to do. In this case, it is a group doubly weakened, in that it consists primarily of women who care for the elderly and the chronically ill.

The state must treat these workers properly. Their services must not be used unless they receive the full protection of labor laws.

The court’s commendable minority opinion noted the distress of these women and said a solution could be found for calculating their work and rest hours based on laws already on the books. Moreover, as long as there is no law regulating caregiving, the High Court erred in siding with Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and determining in its majority opinion that the law will not apply to caregivers until the Knesset has addressed the issue.

In this sense, it was an activist ruling − but nevertheless it was to the detriment of the workers. The notorious U.S. Supreme Court ruling from the early 20th century overturning a protective labor law governing the “freedom of contract,” and thus ignoring the potential exploitation of workers, ought to be remembered as warning in this matter.

Sick people in need of caregivers are also in distress. But the solution must not come at the expense of the social rights of the workers. There are unique aspects of caregiving, and there are also differences among the ill. The Knesset must enact a law covering the field of caregiving so that neither party involved is left abandoned. Such a thing would be entirely unacceptable.