Israeli Opposition Scuttles Knesset Bill Allowing 13-year-olds to Work During Vacation

This is the fifth time the present government has failed to pass legislation.

Olivier Fittousi

A government-backed bill to lower the minimum working age for summer work from 14 to 13 failed to pass its preliminary reading in the Knesset Wednesday, the fifth time during this government’s term that it failed to get its way on a piece of legislation. At the end of a stormy debate, the bill fell when the vote ended in a 43-43 tie.

At issue was a private member’s bill initiated by Kulanu MKs Yifat Shasha-Biton and Roy Folkman, that would have allowed 13-year-olds to work during the summer vacation but only in workplaces to be approved during the legislating processes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tried to persuade Shasha-Biton to delay the vote after being pressured by MKs from both the opposition and the coalition, but in the end asked the coalition back the bill in its initial reading and that adjustments would be made to it later.

“I’ve received the opinion that Yitzhak Kadman, chairman of the National Council for the Child, supports the law; on the other hand, I hear the MKs’ arguments. I think the best thing would be to pass it and continue to debate it in committee,” Netanyahu said.

But the opposition pressed its members to vote against the bill and managed to torpedo it. “If this law gets legislated it will be one of the most embarrassing moments in Knesset history,” said Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich during the debate. “It’s unbelievable that in 2015 a Western country wants to pass such a law. Part of the progress of enlightenment and education was rescuing children from the workplace, and you want to roll back the age of childhood.”

Shasha-Biton, stressing that the bill referred solely to summer vacations, said, “If we lower the [working] age we can also provide a solution for parents who want to create frameworks [for their children] and a bonus for the kids, who will get some pocket money. The more children are busy during the day, the less they will hang out at night and exchange day for night, and they’ll be less bored. You’ve also forgotten that work has an ethical value. In most developed countries the minimum work age is 12 and 13.”

Since being established, the coalition has lost votes on bills four other times. The opposition managed to push through three bills in preliminary reading – on who can chaperone newborns during medical treatment, on the maximum number of cases that social workers can handle, and on restricting the Bailiff’s Office in opening files on debtors. The opposition also defeated a government-backed bill under which custody of small children would no longer be automatically assigned to the mother.