Cleaners protest:
Cleaners protest: 'This stain can’t be removed.' Photo by Eliahu Hershkkovitz
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The argument over how to employ workers hired through labor contractors is really an argument of principle. It is an argument about the structure of the economy, its efficiency, and its competitive ability. The question at hand is whether it is appropriate to allow managers, both in the public and private sectors, to decide on the desired method of employing these workers, or whether they should be forced to do so in one way only - by employing them directly.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has already decided on this issue. The OECD has stated that there should be complete administrative freedom on the issue of employing workers in the public sector. There, the acquisition of services from outside contractors is considered to be the proper solution to improving the level of services in the public sector and to increasing their efficacy. And indeed, in all European countries, outsourcing is the legitimate and accepted means of employing workers. This system is applied widely throughout England, Germany, Sweden and Holland, and obtaining services from outside sources has been on an upward trend in Europe in the past decade.

Acquiring services from an outsider provider - that is to say, employing workers through labor contractors - stems from companies' and government offices' need to specialize in the core area of their business. In today's competitive world, every business tries to be the best in its central field of occupation; that is the only way to survive. That is why managers devote most of their time to their core area of business. They get other services - such as cleaning, security and porterage, as well as computer services, auditing and accounting - from an outside contractor.

But this does not mean that the status of the cleaning and security workers who are employed through contractors must be ignored. These workers are weak, and in many cases they are exploited in violation of the law. Therefore it is appropriate for the struggle being waged by the Histadrut labor federation to lead to the signing of a collective agreement to improve their wages, and to include the granting of full social rights, pension benefits and vacation days, equal to those of regular workers.

In addition, the government must take steps to substantially improve the enforcement of the agreement when it is signed. To that end, it will have to expand the unit in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry that deals with enforcement and give that unit teeth. If that happens, the entire public will benefit. On one hand, the injustice done to the cleaning and security workers will be corrected. On the other, concessions will not have been made over freedom of management and the efficiency of the economy.

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