Netflix has become a big hit with viewers since its arrival in Israel six months ago. But for Israeli employees at the company’s German subcontractor, it is now associated with racist and humiliating treatment, and harassment.
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Such accusations have reached TheMarker in recent months from Israelis working at Convergys, which provides Israeli customer service in Hebrew for the U.S. streaming-media company. In one case, a male employee messaged his female colleague on WhatsApp: “You bitch, a slut is always a slut ... and by the way, bring some baby wipes because you smell bad.”
For Israeli viewers, Netflix is regarded as a user-friendly company. It offers tens of thousands of hours of visual content, a Hebrew-language interface and accepts payments in shekels. As revealed by TheMarker recently, it now has 100,000 Israeli subscribers, including those who access the provider through Partner Communications’ internet TV service.
In the months before it launched in Israel last July, Netflix retained Convergys – a multinational company that supplies customer service for many large companies. Starting last April, Convergys’ German unit hired scores of Hebrew speakers, nearly all of them Israelis, to provide phone, internet chat and email services to the Israeli market out of Germany.
Pay at customer-service centers is generally low, but jobs like those at Convergys are seen as desirable. Friction between the Israeli team and management soon flared, though, as Netflix delayed its Israeli launch and in the meantime the Israeli staff was expected to provide English-language help, even when English wasn’t their native tongue.
“We didn’t have the option of quitting because our contract says that if you leave in the first two months, you have to pay back the first month’s salary,” said A., a worker who, like the others interviewed by TheMarker, asked not to be identified by name. In some cases, workers said their pay was cut without any explanation.
The situation grew worse as Israeli staff claimed they were being subjected to hostile and racist remarks by German colleagues. One Israeli employee alleged that a local manager told him, “People like you, who don’t speak German, aren’t wanted in Germany – you’re destroying our culture and our country.”
The worker added they were made to feel that they did not belong there, were not wanted and came from an “inferior” culture.
Another worker recounted how he asked his immediate supervisor to call a meeting of the German and Israeli staff to discuss what was appropriate behavior, only to be told by the manager that she didn’t regard what had happened as racist. Another Israeli who complained was allegedly told, “Don’t be so sensitive.”
“I’ve lived in Berlin for five years and I never encountered racism like this before,” said another worker, R. “Something like this shouldn’t happen. But it didn’t interest [management]. They ignored the complaints.” One worker said that many employees avoided filing complaints for fear of losing their jobs.
The problem was particularly heightened for female employees. Former Convergys employees say a complaint by an Israeli female worker, B., of hurtful sexual remarks was ignored by management. These were expressions that “should not be said anywhere, certainly not in the workplace,” according to A.
Convergys hadn’t responded to requests for comment by press time, after repeated calls by TheMarker. Netflix said it had asked Convergys to investigate the matter, while stressing that it was a separate company.
After an exodus of Israeli staff during the first few months of operations, C. was the only woman left on the Hebrew-language team. Among other things, she described how crude and racist jokes were made in the work environment, including coarse words spoken directly to her.
In one case, she found herself in the staff kitchen with a fellow Israeli employee. “He came up from behind me, too close to my neck, and told me I smelled good. I was in shock. I left the kitchen, but then saw that in panic I had forgotten to add sugar. I went back to the kitchen and he was still there. He came behind me and just cupped my ass in his hand. I froze,” C. recounted.
C. filed a formal complaint, but the man denied anything had happened and there was no other evidence against him. He was allegedly allowed to remain in his job because he was regarded as too important because he spoke both Hebrew and German.