Unpaid COVID-19 Leave in Israel Hit Women, Arabs, Haredim First

The data provides insight into labor market diversity in terms of employment and wages and should help policymakers ensure greater equality

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Haredi Israelis at a bus stop in Jerusalem in February.
Haredi Israelis at a bus stop in Jerusalem in February.Credit: Emil Salman

The first workers who were put on unpaid leave during the coronavirus crisis were women, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, according to figures released by the Labor and Welfare Ministry’s Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

The figures, which were issued as part of the commission’s Diversity Index, during the first two lockdowns, found that women in the private sector were put on unpaid leave at a higher rate than their share of the overall workforce.

The index focused on 20 key sectors of the economy, accounting for half of the Israeli private sector labor market as well as the public sector, including the central government and local authorities, which together employ about 400,000 people.

The data provide insight into labor market diversity in terms of employment and wages and should help policymakers ensure greater equality.

The index also showed that by age group, older men aged 45 to 64 and younger women aged 18 to 29 were at greater risk of being put on unpaid leave. Arab and Haredi men were put on unpaid leave at rates in line with their share of the workforce, but in the months after the lockdowns, when many workers were returning to their jobs, the two groups were overrepresented among those still on leave.

Other figures showed that Ethiopian immigrants working on factory production lines were put on unpaid leave at lower rates than their share of the workforce, but the rates were higher for Ethiopian women than for Ethiopian men.

The Labor Ministry said the findings showed that the Equal Opportunity Commission’s next challenge was to ensure that those who had been put on leave first had better access to higher-quality jobs in the future to prevent that from happening again.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown more than ever the need for a fundamental change in employers’ perceptions of the importance of diversity and the optimal integration of all population groups in the Israeli labor market,” said Mariam Kabha, the national equal opportunity employment commissioner.

During the first lockdown in April 2020, when the number of Israelis on unpaid leave was at its highest, 64% of those on leave were women, even though they account for only 50% of the entire workforce. During the second lockdown, in September 2020, 54% of those on unpaid leave were women and in October it was 57%. Conversely, the rate for men was lower except for those aged 45 to 64, who were overrepresented among those on leave for most of the period. At the start of the first lockdown, men aged 18 to 29 were overrepresented, but the situation changed in April.

The study took a close look at the food, beverage and tobacco industry, where the average pay is 10,000 shekels ($3,070) a month and 74% of the workforce is male. Most of the jobs in the sector involve physical labor and low skills.

During the 10 months of 2020 that were studied, employment in the industry remained relatively steady – in the first lockdown, it fell by just 13%. But even though women constitute only 27% of the industry’s labor force, they accounted for about 50% of those who were put on leave.

Another example was the food service and hospitality sector, where during the first two lockdowns the percentage of women put on unpaid leave was higher than their share of the sector’s labor force. Arab workers, both men and women, were considerably overrepresented among those not called back to work between lockdowns.

The software sector was almost entirely unaffected by the COVID-19 crisis. Employment remained almost unchanged, apart from the first lockdown when it fell 12.5%. Some 9% of the sector’s workforce was put on unpaid leave, of whom half were women. Women accounted for only a third of the software industry’s labor force, but they accounted for a bigger share of those put on leave throughout the pandemic.

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