The Fact-checker: Who Really Looks After Workers on Shabbat?

MK Merav Michaeli forgets there are employees who earn low wages at cafes and restaurants, even if they’re not visible.

Maya Lecker
Maya Lecker
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Maya Lecker
Maya Lecker

“A supermarket is not a good-time place ... There is no reason why I can’t finish my Friday shopping by 4 o’clock ... The workers don’t live in Tel Aviv and don’t have options, because if they say ‘I don’t want to work on Shabbat,’ then Kobi Tribitch [founder of a 24/7 supermarket chain] will tell them, ‘If you don’t like it, go look for your girlfriends’ ... Completely different types of people work in restaurants and cafes and supermarkets. You know as well as I do that waiters are usually students who will not be waiters their whole lives. Waiters also get a far higher salary than cashiers.”

MK Merav Michaeli, interviewed on Army Radio last week.

Supporters of last month’s High Court of Justice decision, which is expected to oblige the Tel Aviv Municipality to enforce the bylaw shutting businesses on Shabbat, are seeking the good of the Sabbath or the good of the workers. Some of them are concerned about both the Sabbath and the workers. One way or another, it’s an excellent opportunity to mention the warped behavior of the Tel Aviv Municipality.

The day after the judgment was handed down, MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) tried to explain that closing the city’s supermarkets will be a positive development in the history of the city that never stops. In doing so, she resorted to an argument that maintains that drugstores, gas stations and places of leisure (restaurants, cafes, theaters, etc.) are a necessity on the weekend, whereas supermarkets constitute unnecessary pampering and cause worker exploitation. Michaeli explained that in cafes and restaurants, the employees are students; they make more money than supermarket cashiers and will not be stuck in that job for the rest of their lives.

In fact, most waiters earn the same low wage as supermarket cashiers (on top of which, because most waiters earn their wage from tips, the probability that they will get the extra pay the law mandates for working on Shabbat is nonexistent). And there are also cashiers, cleaners and kitchen staff working in cafes, bars, restaurants, etc. The only difference is that they are invisible − they work behind-the-scenes − while the “students” are out front.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, waiters and cleaners get an average salary of about NIS 4,300 a month. Even if we assume that most of the waiters’ earnings are not reported as in other jobs, the assumption that an average waiter makes far more money than a cashier is problematic. Michaeli further assumes that workers in the supermarket chains have less choice than workers in restaurants and cafes, and that they would choose not to work on Shabbat if they had a choice.

If it is possible to enforce the law stipulating that the chains must close on Shabbat, it is also possible to enforce the labor laws and allow people to earn a fair wage for their work − even on Shabbat, and even in supermarkets.

MK Merav Michaeli (Labor).Credit: Moti Milrod

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