Israel Promoting Bill to Compensate Businesses on Quarantine Pay That Could Harm Asylum Seekers

The draft bill would force employers to cover asylum seeker salaries if they went into quarantine, while draining other precarious workers of sick days

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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An Israeli police officer enforces coronavirus regulations in Neve Shanaan, a neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv where many asylum seekers live, May 24, 2020.
An Israeli police officer enforces coronavirus regulations in Neve Shanaan, a neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv where many asylum seekers live, May 24, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

A draft version of a bill proposed by the Finance Ministry on paying workers for days spent in medical isolation because of the coronavirus is likely to harm the precariously employed and asylum seekers, social activists have argued. 

If the Knesset approves the bill, it will apply retroactively from October 1 and be in force through to June 2021. The bill would deny payment for a large number of days missed in the case of workers required to be in isolation more than once, and could leave precarious workers – those who work part-time, temps, and those working in sectors with little job security – without any sick days.

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Employers will be required to pay the entire cost of the days in isolation for asylum seekers, as the government says “it is illegal to employ them,” despite the fact that the government has promised the High Court of Justice that it would not enforce the ban on employing them and removed from their residency permits the statement saying it was illegal to employ them.

A number of social activist groups have harshly criticized the draft bill and are demanding to make changes to it.

The proposal states that the payment to employees who miss work because they are in isolation will be at the expense of sick days they are entitled to by law. Thus, workers in isolation will get no pay for the first day in isolation, 50 percent of their wages for the second and third days, and 100 percent only starting on the fourth day of isolation. Employers and the government will split this cost equally.

Workers left without any sick days will be entitled to payment only from the fourth day on, and this payment will amount to only 70 percent of their usual wages.

In a letter to the Finance Ministry this week, social activist organizations warned of a number of harsh implications for workers if the bill is passed.

First, it does not take into account that using workers’ sick days for isolation would leave those in a precarious situation without sick days when they need them because of an illness, as the number of sick days they receive are less than the maximum of 18 days. One full round of isolation could use up all their sick days.

Second, the proposed bill presents an appearance of dividing up the economic burden between the parties in such a way that the employee bears the cost of “only” two days of isolation – but in practice, the workers could be forced pay for a large number of days in isolation because of the possibility of a number of short and repeated isolation periods. For example, a worker who is required to enter isolation three times for four days each would have to bear the cost for six days of isolation – half of the cumulative number of days. Meanwhile, both the employer and the government would only pay the cost for three days of isolation each. “The law would impose on the weakest workers a much greater cost of isolation days, in a manner that does not match the difference in power between the parties,” states the letter. The letter proposes to instead make the payment for days in isolation a separate arrangement, unrelated to the regular sick day arrangements, with a separate quota of isolation days.

Asylum seekers are expected to be hit especially hard by the proposed law, as their employers would not be entitled to compensation from the government because they are employed illegally, states the draft bill. However, the government does allow the employment of asylum seekers according to arrangements reached in the High Court.

For example, in 2011 the High Court of Justice approved the “non-enforcement agreement,” according to which the government committed not to carry out enforcement actions against employers of asylum seekers who cannot be deported – and since then has allowed Israelis to employ them. In addition, the Population and Immigration Authority has over the last year removed from asylum seekers' residency permits the statement “this permit is not a work permit" from the residency permits of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in response to two proceedings against it in the courts.

In addition, the government does recognize the employment of asylum seekers and compensates their employers in a number of situations. For example, in cases in which the employer has gone bankrupt or had their business liquidated, the government pays workers what they are entitled to by law instead of the employer – even when they are asylum seekers. The groups writing to the authorities argue that there is no logic for the government to discriminate against asylum seekers concerning isolation days when public health lies in the balance.

The Israel Restaurants Association told Haaretz that it too objects to the proposed bill, saying could lead asylum seekers, many of whom are employed in the restaurant business, to choose not to declare their need to remain in isolation so as not to lose their jobs. Shay Berman, the chairman of the association, said the proposed bill is no solution for small businesses, including restaurants, which are facing their worst crisis in their history. The restaurant business is by its very nature one where you serve the public and interact with customers, and thus has a potential for a larger number of days in isolation than businesses that do not serve customers, he said. As a result, these workers may be afraid to report to their employers on their need to be in isolation – and that will lead to the spread of the virus, said Berman.

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