For the first time in six years, manpower agencies that bring in foreigners to Israel to work as home nursing aides will soon be allowed to charge them placement fees.
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On Tuesday, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved new regulations allowing the agencies to charge 3,700 shekels ($960) per aide. The change will not apply to foreigners working in other fields.
The new rules, adopted at the urging of Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz following heavy pressure from the agencies, will take effect as soon as they are published in the official government gazette, Reshumot. They will be in place for one year, during which time the government will hire a consulting firm to examine how large the fee should be.
Until 2010, the agencies were permitted to charge foreign caregivers a fee similar to the one approved Tuesday. But that year, the law authorizing this lapsed, and the Knesset decided not to renew it because numerous caregivers testified to having been forced to pay additional, illegal fees to middlemen, both in Israel and abroad. That same year, the Knesset upped the punishment for collecting illegal fees from labor migrants, to a maximum of three years in jail plus a 220,000 shekel fine.
Since then, the agencies have been able to charge placement fees only to the caregiver’s employer, totaling a maximum of 2,840 shekels a year. The caregivers themselves can be charged only for their plane ticket, medical exams and document handling fees.
The Interior Ministry says there are about 47,000 legal foreign caregivers in Israel and another 12,000 illegal ones. They come mainly from the Philippines, India, Moldova and Sri Lanka.
As Haaretz reported five months ago, an extensive survey of foreign caregivers by Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline found that most were illegally charged large sums of money in placement fees. In 2015, the average fee was $10,700, up from about $6,000 a decade earlier – an increase of almost 80 percent. During that time, caregivers’ wages rose only 40 percent.
The workers almost always have to pay this fee upfront, in their own country, though they can sometimes pay part there and part upon arrival in Israel.
The main way to prevent such illegal payments is by signing bilateral agreements with foreign governments under which foreign workers are recruited directly by those governments, rather than through manpower agencies in both countries. Israel has signed deals like this covering construction and agriculture workers with several countries in recent years. Such agreements, which typically permit charging workers a one-time placement fee of about $1,000, have led to the closure of many manpower agencies.
But in the field of home nursing care, which accounts for 60 percent of all labor migrants in Israel, no such agreement has ever been signed, aside from a small-scale pilot project with Nepal that began last year.
A year ago, the manpower agencies asked the High Court of Justice to order the state to let them start charging placement fees again. In response, the Social Affairs Ministry decided to revive the law that lapsed in 2010, despite admitting that the absence of bilateral agreements makes it difficult to supervise the fees workers are actually charged.
Kav LaOved opposed the new law. The agencies already charge migrants “enormous sums for the right to obtain a work visa in Israel,” it said in a statement, and they shouldn’t be allowed to charge legal placement fees as long as they are collecting “thousands of dollars illegally without let or hindrance.”
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) also opposed it, saying the state should instead sign bilateral agreements and do more to enforce the existing law.
Attorney Yair David of Ahioz, an umbrella organization of manpower agencies, told the Knesset panel that he is unaware of any Israeli agencies that charge illegal fees, but if such cases exist, the state should prosecute them. “When there are traffic violators, you don’t close the road; you have to punish them,” he said.
David claimed that the placement process for foreign caregivers is expensive, and manpower agencies are having trouble covering the costs. He also argued that job placement agencies charge fees for placing Israeli workers in Israeli jobs, so there’s no reason why agencies that place foreign workers in Israeli jobs shouldn’t be allowed to do the same.