Treasury-NGO Spat Could Cost Disabled Workers Their Jobs

Lee Yaron
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Lee Yaron

Only a week after a law was passed requiring public sector agencies to have at least 5 percent disabled employees on their staff, some 100 disabled people may lose their public service jobs because the NGO employing them doesn’t plan to renew its state contract.

The employer, the Association for Public Health, claims it has lost hundreds of thousands of shekels on the contract over the past year-and-a-half. The contract expires on December 31.

Today some 320 people with varying degrees of physical and mental disabilities are employed by government agencies under a special program launched in 2010. They make minimum wages and fill the positions of clerks, research assistants, archive workers, bookkeepers, telephone receptionists, maintenance workers, gardeners and more. The Association for Public Health was one of three companies that won the tender for this program.

The NGO recently distributed letters to its workers, saying that if no solution was found they would be dismissed at the end of the year.

“We are trying to find a solution for continuing your employment,” wrote Yehuda Cohen, the director of the NGO. “Inter alia, we have approached the government procurement administration a number of times to make sure that they are indeed working to find a temporary solution for continuing your employment. As of this writing, no real solution is forthcoming, but we’ve been told the issue is being examined.”

Danny (a pseudonym) has been working for three years at a government ministry and fears that when the contract ends he won’t be able to find another job. “I’m afraid of what will be at the end of the year. I’ve gotten used to having a regular salary and a regular workplace. I was fired from my last job and it took me more than half a year to find this one.”

A worker in a different ministry said that a representative from the NGO came to the office and gave him and other workers the letter. “They told us they’re looking for a solution, but that it’s worth thinking about another job,” he said.

Upon receiving several complaints, MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), one of the sponsors of the new law, wrote to the treasury’s procurement administration and to the department for the integration of the disabled in the Economy Ministry, asking for clarifications. “We just passed a law to increase the representation of disabled people in the civil service, and instead of internalizing the change we’re taking a step backward,” he said.

The Finance Ministry said in response, “The Association for Public Health approached the treasury on its own initiative and said it doesn’t plan to continue its relationship with it after December 2016. The treasury is doing all it can to arrange for the workers’ continued employment, out of its importance and our responsibility and commitment.”

The Association’s Yehuda Cohen told Haaretz that the NGO had lost hundreds of thousands of shekels paying the workers over the past year-and-half. “We contacted the treasury and explained that when this contract ends, the terms of the engagement must be changed so that we don’t lose money every month. We suggested several solutions and we hope that we’ll work out the misunderstandings between us and not harm the workers.”