A report by the United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has for the first time included criticism of Israel's policy toward migrant female workers.
The committee exercises its supervisory mandate on the basis of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Israel signed in 1980 and ratified in 1991. Member states are required to report every four years to a committee of experts on their progress in implementing the convention, and a periodic report is prepared in Israel by the Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant government offices.
The committee of experts, which includes Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, head of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status, also receives reports from human rights groups in each country and meets with official delegations from each country before it formulates its conclusions and recommendations.
The committee expressed serious concern in its most recent report about Israel's treatment of migrant workers who become pregnant. Israeli policy requires that these women leave the country within three months after giving birth or, alternatively, send their children abroad if they wish to retain their work visas.
The committee also expressed concern about the Interior Ministry's policy of nullifying work permits of foreign workers who marry or are in a relationship and recommended that this policy be revoked.
The committee was critical of the weak status of female migrant workers in Israel and their difficult employment conditions, which include working around the clock and being forced to live in the homes of their employers.
Among the committee's recommendations is that Israel enforce existing labor laws vis-a-vis migrant workers, including those pertaining to health insurance and safety. The committee also urged Israel to allow migrant workers access to legal counseling and permission to negotiate with their employers and choose whether to live in their homes or not.
"Even though Israel has been a member of the convention for 20 years, the committee's recommendations prove that it is far from fulfilling its obligations, " said attorney Hani Ben-Israel of Kav LaOved (Worker's Hotline ).
"The committee provided validation to repeated claims made by Kav LaOved regarding the difficult and restrictive employment conditions of migrant workers in areas like nursing, and it condemned violations of the law on work hours and rest. The committee also concluded that a state that has committed itself to full equality of rights for women must not punish them for getting pregnant or giving birth," Ben-Israel added.