Arab Women - the Most Exploited Group in Israeli Workforce

Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry researchers: Only 22 percent of Arab women in Israel participate in the workforce.

There is someone in Israel more exploited than the migrant workers or janitorial staff and it is Arab women. For instance, N.A., a 20-year-old from the Nazareth area, got a job in a bakery upon finishing high school. Morning shifts were eight hours, night shifts were six hours. But no matter how many shifts she worked, at the end of every week, N.A. got the equivalent of NIS 60 per day in cash or something between NIS 7.5 and NIS 10 per hour. The legal minimum wage was NIS 19.25.

A few months later, she found a job that seemed better: As a salesclerk in a housewares and gifts store, she made NIS 2,000 a month. But when she did the math - 10 hours a day, usually six days a week, she realized she wasn't making much more per hour than she had at the bakery. Sometimes she was paid by check and sometimes in cash. Her pay stub said she worked four hours a day.

She recently got a job at a large foodstuffs factory where she makes minimum wage and gets legally-required benefits. "This is great," she says.

N.A.'s mother and sister are part of a grassroots organization established last year by Nazareth-area community empowerment group Yedid to fight for Arab women's wages. A survey of city businessowners indicated that saleswomen and office workers were generally paid NIS 6-8 per hour. The grassroots organization and feminist organization Kayan are involved in a public campaign to reduce the phenomenon.

Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry researchers announced this week that just 22 percent of Arab women in Israel participate in the workforce. In contrast, 71 percent of Jewish women participate in the workforce. The researchers also found that 51 percent make minimum wage or less and their salaries average 47 percent of their Jewish counterparts' wages. This average also includes teachers salaries, without which the gap would be substantially larger.

The research also indicated unemployment among Arab women stood at 17 percent, compared to 8 percent among Jewish women. Eighteen percent of Arab women in part-time employment seek to increase the scope of their jobs, compared to 7.5 percent of Jewish women. According to Trade Ministry official Benny Pfefferman, about one quarter of the Arab women not participating in the workforce hold high-school diplomas or college degrees.