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The Histadrut labor federation, representing organized labor in Israel, and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, on behalf of employers, have signed a collective bargaining agreement that will give cleaning and maintenance workers who earn the minimum wage a 20% salary increase and benefits that many of us take for granted.

This is the first time in 33 years that such an agreement has been negotiated for the sector, which includes some of the lowest wages in the economy. The first phase of the agreement will affect tens of thousands of companies linked to the Federation of Chambers of Commerce. However, once the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry signs off on an extension order to the agreement, it will apply to more than 200,000 cleaning and building maintenance workers.

Under the agreement the wage hike will constitute the new minimum wage for this labor sector. Under a new law that has been initiated by the Histadrut, failure to pay sector minimum wage will be considered a criminal offense.

Employer and employee contributions to pension funds will gradually, after a period of six years, reach 17.5% this wage, higher than the prevailing mandatory contributions of 15%. Workers will receive NIS 150,000 in risk insurance coverage for disability or death for the first six months of their employment, during which they are not covered under a pension plan.

The agreement also increases the number of sick days to which cleaning and maintenance workers are entitled, subject to confirmation from a doctor, to 24 days per year instead of 18 as required by law. In addition, the agreement ensures permanent employees of more than two years the right to a hearing prior to being fired, and prohibits levying of fines for damage inadvertently caused to equipment in the course of their work. Employers have agreed to provide holiday gifts on Passover and Rosh Hashanah, extra pay on holidays, transportation when public transportation is not operating and vacation time in the event of marriage.

The agreement completes a series of collective bargaining accords reached on behalf of some of the weakest groups of employees in the economy, including the guarding and security sector, which among other things provides for a 2.5% wage hike, and cancels weapon fees; the nursing sector, which provides caretakers a 4% wage increase over a period of two years; and an agreement applying to chain store employees, which provides for improved pension plans, severance pay for workers who quit of their own volition and a wage hike for temporary workers on evening shifts.