Serving Asylum Seekers, Immigration Authority Launches Job Dispute

The union has been protesting management’s decision moving workers to the Bnei Brak office to service the large numbers of asylum seekers

African asylum seekers wait to file requests for asylum at Israel's Population and Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak outside of Tel Aviv on February 6, 2018.
meged gozani

Employees of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority at the Bnei Brak office, which is now dealing with Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, launched a job action Monday following a dispute with management.

The union has been protesting in recent days over management’s decision to move workers from other offices to the Bnei Brak office to service the large numbers of asylum seekers. According to the union, management threatened to fire the employees.

The office opened briefly Monday before shutting its doors. Hundreds of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who had come to the office to renew their residence permits or file a request for a hearing before deportation had to leave the complex.

The employees union at the Population Authority in Bnei Brak said it had called a meeting, which was legal, as part of an approved labor dispute. The union said it was management that decided to close the office. The union, which is part of the Histadrut labor federation, is demanding a collective wage agreement from the Population Authority’s Enforcement and Foreigners Administration.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people waited outside the Population Authority offices in East Jerusalem for hours to receive service. Security guards closed the doors and left without an explanation.

The Israeli Employment Service is in the same building, and people were concerned they would not receive their unemployment benefits if they were unable to report. A few hours later the office reopened. On ordinary days, the average wait at Employment Service offices is five hours.

In the industrial zone between the Tel Aviv suburbs Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan, many waited for hours for their turn in a parking lot; they did not know if they would be able to get in.

Alama and Molatega, a couple from Eritrea, took a day off from their jobs to come especially from Eilat with their children to file for asylum.

“We have little children. We left at 1 A.M., we got here at 5 A.M. Now it’s noon. We’re here, but it’s closed,” Alama said. Molatega added: “They told us it’s closed now what can we do now? We’re going back to Eilat. What a mess. It’s hard for us.”

Desai from Eritrea said he has been trying for months to file for asylum and has not been able to do so. “I went to Salameh three times,” he said, referring to the Population Authority offices on Salameh Street in Tel Aviv.

“They won’t let me in, they say ‘no, go home.’ I come all the time at 5 A.M. They tell me no. I was here last Wednesday, they tell me ‘no, closed.’ I got here on Thursday with the children, my wife is pregnant, I waited patiently outside, lots of people here. They now say it’s closed here too. I don’t know what they want.”

The Enforcement and Foreigners Administration at the Population Authority said: “The dispute is because there has been no collective wage agreement for seven years now. The job action will get worse the longer there is no collective wage agreement. It is intolerable that for seven years they haven’t made an agreement with [the workers]. Even if they want to fire a single worker because [of the job action] they’ll all rise up and protest.”

The Population Authority itself did not immediately respond.