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Labor Relations Watchdog Dozes as Employers Run Riot

The Industry and Trade Ministry recently conducted a highly unusual survey. It sought to learn how much workers know about their salaries.

The Industry and Trade Ministry recently conducted a highly unusual survey. It sought to learn how much workers know about their salaries.

Its findings were perhaps less than surprising, but they were upsetting. The ministry found that 63 percent of workers who receive "low pay," namely less than NIS 4,500 a month, lacked even the most basic understanding of their salaries. First and foremost, they had no idea what minimum wage was.

About the same proportion of workers could not say which pay components were factored into the minimum wage, although their pay slips state this very thing.

The ministry also found that only 7.2 percent of workers believe their employers pay the minimum wage as laid down by law. The rest think they receive less but had overestimated the minimum wage.

What is the minimum wage? NIS 3,710.18. Now you know.

The Industry and Trade Ministry should conduct more surveys to discover how deep the ignorance runs regarding employment terms. We can guess at the results of a study that might check the public's general knowledge of pension rights, training or provident funds, payment for shift work at night or on Shabbat, or severance compensation upon being fired.

Ignorance is also probably rampant regarding non-economic rights such as receiving a proper chair for long hours of work, or preventing sexual harassment.

The inevitable conclusion from the survey is that workers lack the most basic tools to fight for their rights. The situation is less critical at large workplaces that use collective employment agreements, where the sheer mass of workers and existence of lively unions pretty much ensures that workers get their due. There are exceptions, of course: Just look at how long local governments went on denying salaries to workers because they were stone-broke.

Protecting worker rights is harder at small businesses, such as sewing shops in rural towns, out-of-the-way garages and carpentry shops, shopping mall stores and so on - not to mention restaurants that employ students. Workers in these places have trouble securing their rights, in part, as the study shows, because they don't know what those rights are. Nor do they have the clout to do much.

Such workers are not represented by the Histadrut umbrella union, which is a powerful force in the public sector, but less so in the private one or in smaller workplaces. The one who should be guarding the rights of workers in such other places is the Industry and Trade Ministry itself, by increasing its workforce of inspectors.

Israel has excellent labor laws. The problem lies in their enforcement.