Asylum Seekers Sent to Detention Entitled to Severance Pay

Decision affects large majority of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who hold temporary resident permits that prohibit them from working.

Eliyahu Hershkowitz

The Finance Ministry has determined that asylum seekers who leave jobs in Israel to emigrate or report to the Holot detention facility are entitled to severance pay.

Attorney Iris Maayan, the Finance Ministry’s expert on asylum seekers’ labor rights, wrote, “An individual who infiltrated into Israel, lived here and worked here with a temporary residence permit that did not allow him to work, but eventually ceased working due to leaving the country of his own accord or being order to Holot until choosing to leave Israel — such a person is entitled to severance pay.”

The decision affects the large majority of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who hold temporary resident permits that prohibit them from working. The government committed before the Supreme Court not to enforce the prohibition to allow the asylum seekers to make a living while receiving collective protection in Israel. But many employers take advantage of the asylum seekers’ unclear status, withholding basic rights, including severance pay.

Maayan wrote that her position is based on “basic norms of law and case law.” She added that the term “dismissed” can be interpreted to include cessation of employment due to circumstance in which an employee is ordered to leave the country and that asylum seekers are entitled to receive any pension funds they have accumulated before leaving the country.

“It’s not unnecessary to point out that this practice — forcing employers to pay their employees after termination of foreign workers that does not stem from the workers’ interest, but rather the state’s interest, is recognized by the Supreme Court and other rulings,” wrote Maayan.

Noa Kaufman, coordinator for refugees and asylum seekers at the Worker’s Hotline, praised the Finance Ministry’s decision, saying it is good news for the many asylum seekers who are forced to fight for their basic rights. “As far as I know, aside from the large hotels, no employer has paid severance pay to employees who were ordered to Holot. Employers would say, We didn’t fire the employee, he should turn to the government to get severance. We have hundreds of files of employees already at Holot. There have been cases in which we’ve succeeded to get severance, or partial severance, but many cases have been sent to the courts and are still being handled there. I hope this decision can help find a solution.”