In Turnaround, Israel to Keep Unemployed Women From Losing Maternity Benefits

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The National Insurance Institute Jerusalem branch office, July 9, 2020.
The National Insurance Institute Jerusalem branch office, July 9, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Finance Ministry decided to back on Monday an amendment to allow pregnant women who lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis to receive maternity benefits.

The move was announced a week after Haaretz reported that thousands of pregnant Israelis laid off or furloughed during the crisis are slated to lose their maternity and unemployment benefits when they give birth.

The amendment is intended to help women who are due to give birth until June, even if they do not meet the requirement of working 10 months because they lost their jobs due to the pandemic. If it is approved by the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, the amendment is expected to go into effect retroactively from January 1.   

According to the current law, women who have not worked since March will be ineligible for maternity allowances after birth, because the law limits such eligibility to a period of 10 months from the last day they worked. They will also not be entitled to unemployment compensation due to the Women's Employment Law, which forbids hiring a woman for the first 15 weeks of her maternity leave after childbirth: Because these women cannot be employed, they cannot be defined as “unemployed.”

According to the amendment initiated by the Welfare Ministry and National Insurance Institute, women who were put on unpaid leave or fired since March, and were eligible until then for a maternity allowance, will be able to receive it.

Until now, finance officials opposed the measure, and requested that the women receive unemployment benefits instead, which is lower by dozens of percent. After the report of how this would harm pregnant women, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz decided to advance the plan alongside National Insurance Institute Director Meir Shpigler, contrary to the position of his ministry.

The move will cost an estimated 75 million shekels, despite initial estimates of up to 140 million shekels. The teams of professionals that will formulate the plan believe that it will affect at least a thousand women per month. The exact amount each woman will receive is dependent on her previous salary.

“The aid for women who will give birth beginning in January is necessary and justified,” Katz said of the decision.

Shpigler said in his own statement that “We encountered illogical situations in this crisis that harmed social rights.” In just a few days, they found an audience, “partners, and public responsibility and we decided to amend the law.”

Welfare Minister Itzhak Shmuli, who took part in formulating the plan and advancing the agreements between the Finance Ministry and National Insurance Institute, welcomed the move. “Women were especially hurt in this crisis and they do not need to pay this price,” he said.     

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