A crackdown on restaurants, cafes and pubs by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry over the past several weeks racked up a perfect score: Suspected violations of labor law were uncovered at each and every one of the 140 businesses that were checked, and all are now being subject to formal investigations.
The ministry said Sunday that it had taken evidence from numerous people providing evidence that waiters and other staff were not paid properly according to the law.
The ministry has begun enforcing labor regulations more strictly since the Law for Increased Enforcement of Labor Law went into effect last June. But the latest crackdown is by far the biggest and more focused.
The new law gives the authorities greater powers against employers to deal with violation quickly and efficiently. The most common violations ministry inspectors found were failure to pay the legal minimum wage, not paying workers for training, overtime, preparation time or instruction. Other common violations included failure to issue a pay stub and stubs that didn't reflect the real number of hours worked. Other food establishments didn't pay pension contributions or for time off allowed under the law.
The restaurant sector is a major employer, with some 9,000 businesses, employing some 6,000 people, not including hotels, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Alon-Lee Green, a social activist and former waiter himself who founded the Waiters Association last September, lauded the ministry's crackdown. "The absence until now of any enforcement in the restaurant industry had turned it into a jungle," he said. "More and more creative methods were being devised to abuse employees."
Green attributed the problem to all the parties involved - employers for riding roughshod over their employees and not making sure they understood the law, the workers themselves for failing to stand up for their rights, and the authorities for failing to investigate. "Now it looks like there is a laudable change underway," he said.
Waiters and other restaurant staff are easily exploited because they tend to be young and new to the job market. Waiters and waitresses get most of their pay in cash - usually from tips - rather than through payments officially recorded on the business' books. When a diner pays by credit card, the waiter doesn't receive the full value of the tip he has earned because of fees charged by the credit card companies.
The ministry said that it was not unusual for restaurant staffs not to get social benefits. Cooks told ministry inspectors that they worked very long hours, up to 17 straight, in violation of the law and without getting overtime as legally mandated.
Yaffa Solomoni, who heads the industry ministry's Regulation and Enforcement Authority, said the latest crackdown came only after officials gathered intelligence on violations. "The authority has the administrative and criminal tools to take measures against employers in violation," she said. "We are calling on employers in the [restaurant] sector to move quickly to ensure the rights of their workers as the law mandates so that we aren't forced to impose heavy financial penalties and indictments."