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The chairman of the Lahav umbrella organization for the self-employed, Zeev Wiener, said at a press conference yesterday that there is no need to raise the minimum wage for Druze women working in textile factories.

"A Druze girl working in one of the sewing workshops scattered around the Galilee doesn't need a raise in the minimum wage. If she makes NIS 2,500 [per month], she doesn't feel that her employer is exploiting her," Wiener said.

"You must understand: the needs of a young Druze woman are different from those of other workers in the country," Wiener continued. "She is subject to religious strictures that prohibit her from leaving her village to work outside, so she says `thank you' for the opportunity to work within her community."

Wiener said that Druze women have lost their jobs to their Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts following pay rises in Israel that have forced sewing workshops here to close.

"Raising the minimum wage [to $1,000 a month, as Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz has proposed] would lead to the collapse of small- and medium-sized businesses," Wiener claimed, adding that "maybe the big companies could survive because they can fire workers and streamline their operations."

In response to the declaration by new Labor Party candidate Shelly Yachimovich that unrestricted imports hurt local production, Wiener said, "It's imports that enable free competition and lower prices, which is good for citizens and especially the workers."