Despite Pay Deal, Janitors and Guards Still Await 2,000 Shekel Grant

Security guards in parts of Jerusalem threaten to go on strike Monday.

Ofer Vaknin

Four months after being told they would receive a special grant as part of the new public-sector wage agreement, tens of thousands of contract laborers working as janitors or security guards have yet to receive the money.

All regular public-sector employees received the 2,000-shekel ($530) grant months ago.

In early January, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Histadrut labor federation secretary-general Avi Nissenkorn that some 70,000 contract workers would receive the one-time grant stipulated in the new wage deal.

“We continue to look contract laborers in the eye and tell them, ‘The state is taking responsibility for you.’ This corrects an injustice of many years’ standing,” Kahlon said at the time.

But more than four months later, the workers are still waiting.

Consequently, security guards plan to strike today at schools in two Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Yaakov.

“We keep getting promises,” the guards said in a statement, explaining the strike. “We’re tired of risking our lives, getting minimum wage and being treated as second-class citizens.”

Yonatan (not his real name) has been guarding schools in Neveh Yaakov for over five years.

“I work near Shoafat,” he said, referring to a Palestinian neighborhood that has produced several assailants during the current wave of terror attacks. “I’m at a high level of risk; I’m afraid to work in this security situation. The state’s attitude toward us is offensive. They pay the minimum, and they aren’t giving the only grant they promised us. This month, I didn’t have money to pay my mortgage, and I’m supporting four children. The state knows how to praise guards when they thwart an attack, but on a day-to-day level it spits in our faces.”

All workers were supposed to receive the first half of the grant in their January paychecks, but two groups didn’t receive it – local government employees and contract laborers. In February, the Histadrut threatened that local government workers would strike if the grants weren’t paid. At the last moment, the treasury handed over the money, averting the strike. But the contract laborers have yet to see a penny.

“You said the workers would get the money in their January paychecks, then in February, in March, in April,” said Alex Tenzer, chairman of an organization representing the laborers. “At the last Passover seder, the contract laborers sang, ‘We are still slaves’” (instead of the traditional “We were slaves, but are now free”).

“And on Independence Day, they still didn’t get their grant – only lower salaries because of the holiday,” Tenzer added.

Raam Security, one of the contracting companies that supplies security guards to public-sector institutions, sent a letter to its employees yesterday, saying it would hold them personally responsible if they didn’t show up to work today.

“Your announcement that you don’t intend to come to work [on Monday] is a far-reaching step that violates the law,” the letter stated. “You are hereby required to show up for work tomorrow morning as usual, and not to take unilateral, serious, irresponsible steps,” especially given the potential consequences for “the human lives with whose protection you are entrusted.”

The Histadrut said this is the first public-sector wage agreement that has ever included a grant for contract workers. Under an agreement with the treasury and the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, the grant will be included in May salaries, which are paid in early June. “Any organization that doesn’t include the grant in the next paycheck will violate the law,” it added.

Nevertheless, the Histadrut also promised back in March that the treasury would approve the payment within a week. Moreover, it signed another agreement with the treasury in March promising that any time the state approved a one-time grant for workers, contract laborers would receive it when regular employees did – or, at most, one month later. Yet contract laborers are still waiting for the grant their colleagues received in February.