Israel’s beleaguered restaurateurs have just gotten a little help from the Population and Immigration Authority. The problem, they say, is it's too little help.
The authority last week quietly approved awarding permits to 1,500 West Bank Palestinians to work as dishwashers and cleaners in Israeli restaurants, bars and cafes. The Palestinians are supposed to help ease a labor crunch for such jobs, which Israelis won’t do.
“The solution of 1,500 Palestinian workers is only partial and we still don’t know what to do with it,” said Shai Berman, head of the Israel Restaurants Association.
In response, Yoel Lipovetsky, the head of employers and foreign workers services at the authority, said the restaurants should use the quota they have and if there is a need for more permits, officials will consider it.
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“We gave them another option for employing workers and they should appreciate it,” he said
Until now, many of those jobs – which number around 30,000 – have been filled by asylum seekers. But the government has made the cost of employing asylum seekers prohibitive by among other things requiring employers to deduct 20% of their salaries to put into an account the worker can only withdraw upon leaving Israel.
The aim of the policy, said Berman and restaurant owners, is to pressure asylum seekers to leave voluntarily and avoid the stigma of expelling them. In the meantime, it has only raised costs for eateries.
“It’s unjust that a farmer can make money [employing asylum seekers] because he doesn’t pay these costs while we’re heading into bankruptcy,” said Shlomo Solomon, a co-owner of the Tel Aviv restaurant Amore Mio. “Pasta shouldn’t cost 100 shekels [$27], but when 45% of your revenues go to salaries, you can’t survive otherwise.”
Others in the industry say Palestinian workers face too many restrictions to enable them to serve as an alternative to asylum seekers. Palestinians who work in Israel ordinarily get a day pass and have to return to their homes at night unless they get special approval. But most restaurants operate late into the night.
Others said Palestinian workers had limited value because they wouldn’t be able to work holidays in Israel when the army imposes a closure on the West Bank and bars all Palestinian from entering.
Although many restaurateurs had expressed safety concerns about employing more Palestinians, Berman was quick to dismiss these. "The fears are unjustified. Every day 100,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel to work in construction and there are almost no problems,” he said. “Restaurateurs still have to get used to the idea of employing them – they used to.”