Even Kibbutz Members Losing Jobs in Economic Downturn

The privatization trend on many kibbutzim is depriving many kibbutz residents of the job security.

The privatization trend on many kibbutzim is depriving many kibbutz residents of the job security they once took for granted, and they are feeling this particularly acutely in the wake of the global economic crisis.

The crisis has affected the kibbutz sector and its manufacturing facilities, and hundreds of kibbutz members have been laid off in recent months - both people employed on kibbutzim and those with outside jobs, the Kibbutz Movement reported.

In response, the Kibbutz Movement launched an employment service on its Web site this week. In the program's first two days, 125 kibbutzniks registered.

Omer Barnea of the Kibbutz Movement economic department says there are no precise figures on the extent of kibbutz unemployment, but that the problem varies between kibbutzim.

Two years ago, Gal Carmeli, 61, lost his job coordinating the landscaping department at Kibbutz Hulata in the Upper Galilee. He had held the position for two years, after losing a long-time job working in the kibbutz citrus groves. The groves were scrapped in an effort to cut staff.

When he lost his job two years ago, he was a "naive kibbutznik who didn't know what an ATM was," he recalled.

Kibbutz Hulata was in the midst of a privatization plan at the time and was facing severe financial problems.

Under privatization, kibbutzim decrease the extent of collective responsibility, and individuals are given greater economic independence.

Now, the days of a guaranteed job are over at Hulata, and every member must find a livelihood on his or her own. Carmeli now ekes out a living as a jeep tour guide, and in good months earns NIS 2,500 to 3,000. This barely covers his expenses, and he cannot offer his adult children financial help.

Y., another 61-year-old kibbutznik from the north, was recently laid off from a senior position on his kibbutz.

"Now I must fend for myself," he said. "The kibbutz can help, but it's not responsible for finding me work."

At privatized kibbutzim, members pay into a "safety net" system, which provides six months of support to newly unemployed members.

Barnea noted that while the trend had been to reduce the sums members paid into the system, that is now reversing. The increased payments are being fought on some kibbutzim.

On the other hand, the kibbutz safety nets may fail if the economic downturn continues for too long.

Barnea noted that the Kibbutz Movement has been handling the situation well, such as by laying off workers past retirement age first.

Y. acknowledges that when the kibbutz needs to cut back, outside employees go before kibbutz members.

"It's still harder to fire a kibbutz member," he said, "but members are not accustomed to the situation. Up to now, they looked to the kibbutz as if it were a parent."