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A billion shekels a year, that is about how much black market money employers take every year from legal foreign workers. According to a study by Kav LaOved (Workers Hotline), this amount is stolen from foreigners working in Israel legally.

Most of this money goes to the companies that broker the workers? employment, such as manpower and home-nursing-care firms, says Hannah Zohar, Kav LaOveds director. These firms keep about 65% of the money workers pay while still in their home countries in order to arrange employment in Israel.

The next largest share of the billion shekels goes to employers who make money by trading in the permits for employing foreigners. When a company no longer needs its workers, it charges them a fee for transferring them to another employer, even though sometimes the firms never legally change the workers? status.

?Sometimes the employer demands thousands of dollars from the workers for registering them as legally employed. This illegal arrangement is known as open visa because in addition to the hours devoted to the legitimate employer, the worker is free to find, on his own, an additional source of income - the embodiment of a free market, writes Kav LaOved.

The group considers itself a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization committed to protecting the rights of disadvantaged workers in Israel.

Waiting in line to take advantage of foreign workers are also unethical lawyers who charge them thousands of shekels to renew or extend work permits. Lawyers then file for a temporary restraining order preventing a worker?s deportation from Israel, but the order is usually only for a month. In the meantime, the lawyers abandon their clients, who are then deported at the end of the month.

?The state has an economic interest to encourage trading in migrant laborers, because its revenues from fees and licenses related to employing these workers totals NIS 200 million a year, Zohar says.

Brokers also have an interest in preserving the situation, says Zohar, because only a small percentage of the money they receive is ever reported to the tax authorities.

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor requires construction companies to deposit NIS 700 a month per worker instead of pension payments. This sum is supposed to be given to the worker when he or she leaves Israel, in lieu of a pension. But the employers view this as a waste of money and simply increase the fees charged to workers to pay for it, Zohar says.

The study was based on statistics supplied by the Philippine and Thai embassies, as well as government documents from the industry and interior ministries. Manpower companies also made testimonies.