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Some 47,000 businesses, or 10.5% of all businesses in Israel, are expected to close down in 2009, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned yesterday.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem on employment at a time of financial crisis, Ben-Eliezer added that most of the businesses in question are small private enterprises with up to five employees.

Overall, the business sector is expected to lose 13,000 jobs this year, he told participants.

The key to helping businesses survive is for the government to ease their credit crunch through funds "to provide them with oxygen," the minister told the conference.

A survey conducted by Oketz Systems indicates that 81% of all middle-sized and small businesses have cut employee wages or benefits as a result of the financial crisis, with fully 35% of employers cutting such expenditures by 30% or more.

The survey queried 542 mid-size and small businesses, representing ten of thousands of workers.

Only 19% of these businesses reported either that there had been no change in employees' wages, or that wages had increased.