Fewer Disabled Israelis Working Despite Government's Efforts

Employers have to follow the government’s lead and do more to get disabled people into the workforce, rights groups say.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Disabled Israelis on the job.
Disabled Israelis on the job.Credit: Dan Keinan
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Last year 51 percent of disabled Israelis of working age were employed, compared with 57 percent in 2013, the Justice Ministry’s Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities said this week.

Last year around 80 percent of working-age Israelis without disabilities were employed.

According to David Marko, chairman of a forum that promotes employment among the disabled, employers have to follow the government’s lead and do more to get disabled people into the workforce.

“There are still psychological barriers that haven’t disappeared despite the state’s moves,” he said. “Public transportation and many workplaces are still not fully accessible, and Israel still doesn’t have a broad and suitable system of job training for the disabled.”

There are 1.14 million people with disabilities in Israel, 703,000 of whom are of employment age. Among people with more serious disabilities, 38 percent were employed, while for the mildly disabled the number was 59 percent.

The numbers were provided by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

“Unfortunately, these statistics point to large gaps between people with and without disabilities in the workforce. Responsibility for this lies with all sectors, private and public,” said Avrami Torem, the head of the Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities. “The increased hiring of disabled people is a national interest because employment is the key to an independent and productive life.”

Over the past 20 years, the government has striven to get more disable people working. In 1998, the Equal Rights for Persons With Disabilities Law was passed, which banned discrimination in the workplace.

In 2002, new minimum-wage regulations allowed for disabled people with limited work capacities to be paid below the minimum wage. The Economy Ministry set up a special team for integrating the disabled, and in November 2014 the government said it wanted the disabled to make up 3 percent of public-service workers immediately, with the number rising to 5 percent in 2017.

But according to the state comptroller, the government isn’t reaching its targets. The percentage of disabled workers among state employees was 2 percent in 2010, rising to just 2.2 percent by 2015.

In August a bill submitted by MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) and Yoav Kish (Likud) was passed giving companies that hire the disabled preference in competing for government tenders.

Naama Lerner, who heads the community services department at the Bizchut rights group for people with disabilities, says more incentives are needed to prod employers to hiring the disabled. “The government must act to close the gaps in employment by offering such incentives,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved changes to a 2009 law that regulated the employment of disabled people. The Social Affairs Ministry and the National Insurance Institute considered these changes for months with MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), who spearheaded the move.

Despite government and private efforts, 70 percent of the 25,000 people with disabilities who start working every year quit in less than a year. On Tuesday a time limit on re-obtaining disability benefits after leaving a job has been lifted so that benefits can be more easily renewed.

Another change relates to the salary a disabled person can earn and still receive a disability allowance. Now the upper limit in some circumstances can be 9,000 shekels ($2,340) a month a salary that few disabled people reach.

According to numbers released Tuesday, 56 percent of the disabled earn less than 6,000 shekels a month. The income of households that include a disabled person of employment age is on average 25 percent lower than that of other households.