Maxwell Anurpung arrived in Israel from Ghana four years ago and has since worked as a cleaner in hotels in Eilat. Several weeks ago, the management of Club Hotel notified him he must leave Israel in accordance with government regulations on illegal workers and the Immigration Police.
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In a garbled English-language letter distributed to all the hotel's foreign workers, Club Hotel thanked them for their hard work and said the management would purchase plane tickets for them to return to their home countries.
A ticket was purchased for Anurpung for a March 23 flight to Ghana, organized by the immigration authorities, at a cost of $600. Anurpung is not angry at the government.
"This is not my country. But I want my salary, and I want compensation," he said. Lawyer Arik Naor will in the coming days file a court motion demanding compensation on behalf of Anurpung and other workers.
Thousands of foreign workers have been illegally employed in Eilat for years with the full knowledge and tacit agreement of the authorities. But, in the framework of mass deportations of foreign workers, it was decided to eliminate this phenomenon of illegal employment by the end of March.
According to a December agreement between the Interior Ministry and the Eilat Hotels Association, the hotels will receive 600 new licensed employees according to criteria to be determined by the Industry and Trade Ministry. Head of the Eilat Hotels Association, Yossi Ani, told the Eilat hotels to order via manpower agencies the new workers each has been allocated.
Ani noted that it is not recommended to import workers from Russia, Africa or China.
According to David Blum, managing director of human resources at Isrotel, the Interior Ministry explained that workers from these places are "runaways and settlers." In other words, they tend to stay in Israel beyond the period of their legal employment and not to stay with their original employer. It was thus advised to import workers from India and the Philippines.
Indian workers have started arriving in Eilat and some of them report having paid Indian labor agents commissions of up to $5,000.
Blum said Isrotel is using a company to import new workers that does not charge commissions. He said other manpower agencies offered to pay him to employ their services. Even the Chinese consulate offered to pay Blum if he allowed them to supply Isrotel with new employees, he said, but the consulate denied this. It is known that Chinese workers pay up to $10,000 to officials in their government and to middlemen to obtain permits to work in Israel.
In other sectors employing foreign workers, the workers pay thousands of dollars to manpower agencies who then split these payments with officials and agents in their home countries.
Blum said Isrotel examined the option of legalizing its current African workers, but most of them did not meet the criteria set by the Interior Ministry.
When asked yesterday why it isn't possible to simply legalize those individuals now working in Eilat, Herzl Gadaj, head of the Population Administration, said, "The policy is not meant to reward foreigners for working illegally in Israel for years."
According to the agreement with the Interior Ministry, the hotels are obligated to remove their illegal African workers within 21 days of the arrival of the new employees. The hotels agreed to pass on the passports and home addresses of their employees to the Immigration Police.
"We will freeze their rights until their departure from Israel, in conjunction with an obligation to grant them everything they deserve according to agreements and to labor laws," the agreement said. This means the workers will not be paid their salaries until they arrive at the airport, ensuring their departure from Israel.
But Blum said Isrotel was not asked to withhold wages. He said the legal question of compensation to workers would be dealt with by each hotel on an individual basis.
Hotels have generally refused to award compensation, claiming the state forced them to eliminate their employees, and they were thus not technically fired.
"The behavior of some of the hotels is scandalous," lawyer Naor said. "Not only did they employ people illegally for years, now they are not prepared to pay compensation and blame the state."
Naor believes the freezing of workers' rights to their salaries and the Interior Ministry demand that employers confiscate employees' passports are both illegal.