70 Percent of Israel's Newly Furloughed Workers Are Women

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Office buildings are seen on the border Tel Aviv and Givatayim, June 16, 2020.
Office buildings are seen on the border Tel Aviv and Givatayim, June 16, 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Israel’s tightened lockdown that went into effect on Friday affected thousands of people furloughed for the second time since the coronavirus outbreak began, but those harmed the most are women – out of the 93,000 Israelis put on unpaid leave this time, 70 percent are women.

Currently, Israel has 854,367 job seekers, of whom 522,191 have been furloughed due to the pandemic.

According to data provided by Israel’s National Employment Service at Haaretz’s request, 54.2 percent of those who filed for unemployment benefits − a total of 463,000 – are women.

In the two months prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of unemployed men and women more or less reflected their percentage of the population, but the coronavirus crisis resulted in more women being fired and furloughed. During the first coronavirus wave women constituted 56 percent of the employees who were fired.

Rami Graur, CEO of the Employment Service, explains that more women have become jobless than men because they worked in industries that were more affected by the coronavirus. “More women work as educators and in sales than men, and that’s why the percentage of women placed on unpaid leave is higher than that of men," Graur told Haaretz.

Since September 17, a day before Israel entered its second nationwide lockdown, some 120,000 job seekers have registered with the Employment Service, 110,000 of them because they were put on unpaid leave; of those,17,000 were furloughed for the first time.

Graur noted that “there are hundreds of thousands who haven’t returned to work since March, among them workers of industries that were severely hit by the crisis. As we warned, this long period of unemployment might drive hundreds of thousands of people into chronic unemployment, create a lost generation of young people who are constantly jobless as well as lead to other ramifications.”

The blow to women in the work force would have been even worse had the Labor Ministry pursued its original plan on the eve of the second lockdown — allowing all businesses that were shut down to furlough women who are pregnant, undergoing fertility treatment, on maternity leave or have returned from maternity leave in the past two months, excluding exceptional cases. In April, the government approved a similar regulation, which permitted placing thousands of women on unpaid leave. That regulation was revoked 11 days after petitions against it were filed with the High Court of Justice, before the court held a hearing on the matter. Israeli law forbids furloughing pregnant women without a special approval by the Labor Ministry.

Haaretz has learned that the ministry recently formulated a new regulation on the matter. A day before the second lockdown went into effect the ministry shared it with women’s organizations, requesting their comment within an hour. The response harshly criticized the initiative.

“The proposed outline harms the purpose of the Women’s Labor Law, disproportionately harms constitutional rights, doesn’t leave any room for the female employee’s right to contest [the decision],” the letter read. “Where a ‘collective’ regulation is implemented, there isn’t and could not be a worthy, full and thorough examination of each and every case.”

The letter was co-authored by the NGO, Itach-Maaci Women Lawyers for Social Justice, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Kav LaOved Worker’s Hotline, the Clinic for Women and Economics at the Hebrew University the Israel Women’s Network and WIZO.

Sarit Yehudai, the Labor Ministry official responsible for enforcing the Employment of Women Law Women Labor Law, announced that the ministry has decided to backtrack from the new regulation. “It was decided not to amend the current work regulationss, according to which all requests submitted to our office will be dealt with,” Yehudai said.

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