Eritrean Asylum Seekers Unpaid for Work

The state compensated itself for mistakenly awarded tax credits, with no warning to the workers.

Reuters

Fifteen Eritrean contract workers did not receive their August wages because the tax authorities may deduct tax credits mistakenly awarded in the past — a particular problem because the workers have been fired and were not warned of the August shortfall.

The workers — asylum seekers — were laid off from the company Kaplan and Levy, which provides cleaning services to the Tel Aviv municipality.

At the beginning of September they discovered they would not be paid for work done in August, and many of them were left with no money to buy food or pay rent.

“I worked hard all August in the heat and the state took all the money from me,” said an asylum seeker who has lived in Israel for eight years and was employed as a street sweeper.

“Nobody told us we wouldn’t get paid. We were scared there wouldn’t be any way to buy food. I have two children under 4 and had to borrow money from my brother and friends to survive.”

The 15 asylum seekers worked for eight to 12 hours a day cleaning the Jaffa promenade and Tel Aviv’s Ben Yehuda Street. The workers are between 30 and 60 years old, and their monthly wage stood between 6,000 and 8,000 shekels ($2,061).

“This is an exceptional event, both in terms of the number of workers who didn’t receive their money and because of the high sum deducted from their wages,” said Ariel Schendar of the NGO Kav La’Oved that defends workers’ rights.

“It’s an absurd situation because the process is legal but there’s clear harm to the workers. I’m constantly hearing ‘Why punish us? What does it have to do with us that they mistakenly took from us too little tax? Why won’t they give us our wages?’”

The workers’ debt to the tax authorities accumulated after new tax regulations were introduced in January, under which foreign workers are not eligible for the tax credits an Israeli resident is eligible for: 2.25 points.

The canceled benefit amounts to around 500 shekels a month for each worker, with the regulations stating that foreign workers are not eligible for tax credits received in the past. In this case, the employers had to deduct the sums mistakenly awarded for years.

“According to the regulations set by the finance minister, income-tax credit points will only be given to Israeli residents and in specific cases to eligible foreign residents,” said a spokesman for the Tax Authority.

Until asylum seekers’ requests are approved and they receive refugee status, their status is that of unauthorized foreign workers, leaving them with no right to tax deductions.

“The state is unwilling to recognize the workers as foreign workers or residents eligible for tax deductions, and decided to deny them retroactively,” Kaplan and Levy said. “As a result of a court decision, the company was forced to deduct from the workers’ wages the sum denied to them: 847,101 shekels.”