Israel and Philippines to Sign Deal Protecting Rights of Filipino Workers

Agreement, which comes after years of public and legal battles, expected to be signed during Duterte's visit to Israel next week

FILE PHOTO: A foreign worker in Israel.
Alon Ron

After years of public and legal battles, Israel and the Philippines will sign an agreement next week to protect the rights of Filipino home health aides working in Israel.

Among other provisions, the agreement will limit the exorbitant fees that placement agencies charge the workers to $800 plus the price of the plane ticket.

Several state comptroller’s reports have noted that foreign workers are often forced to pay between $3,000 and $10,000 to work in Israel. The fee is divided between the Israeli placement agency and its counterpart in the worker’s home country.

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“Collecting illegal placement fees from job seekers lays the groundwork for employment in slave-labor conditions, because of the dependency it creates between the person who paid the placement fee and his employer,” the 2014 comptroller’s report said. “His enslavement to the debt makes the worker very easy to exploit.”

A 2013 survey by the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved found that on average, it took workers 18 months of work just to pay off the placement fee.

To prevent such exploitation, the cabinet decided that foreign workers would only be brought in via agreements with their home countries. But signing such an agreement with the Philippines has lagged. In June 2014, the High Court of Justice criticized the delay, saying the state should speed up the process.

In the months leading up to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit next week, the Foreign Ministry has been working hard to finalize the agreement. It is now expected to be signed during the visit.

The agreement creates a joint mechanism by the two governments to vet, refer and place workers. It will promote a transparent recruitment policy and limit placement fees.

Both countries also promised to protect the workers’ rights and conduct oversight to make sure they are upheld. The agreement also contains a provision “encouraging” workers to return home at the end of their employment period.

“After many years of discussions, and a personal push from the prime minister, we’ve reached a historic agreement that will protect the rights of the dedicated workers from the Philippines, and we’re very happy about this,” said Gilad Cohen, the head of the ministry’s Asia and Pacific desk. “This issue affects many Israeli families.”

Duterte’s visit is also expected to include an announcement about direct flights between the two countries. Filipino planes (though not Israeli ones) will apparently be allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia, just as Indian flights to Israel now do.