Israeli Government Halts Funds to Help Integrate the Disabled

Money has been frozen to pay new disabled workers who deserve the minimum wage.

Some new disabled employees will not receive the minimum wage this year because the government has stopped transferring funds, the Industry Ministry says.

A special amendment in Israel lets employers pay workers with physical or emotional disabilities less than the minimum wage. Starting this year, the government has stopped allotting the NIS 5.7 million annually to help determine which disabled workers deserve the minimum wage.

"It's a blow to the worker's right to make a decent living and to his right to equality," said Or Raviv, an employment rehabilitation counselor. "Often, the fact the employer knows that the government is taking part in expenses to integrate a disabled person motivates him to employ him in the first place."

According to the special amendment, three weeks after disabled employees start jobs, examiners rate their work and interview them and their employers. If disabled workers' output is at least 80 percent the output of healthy employees, they receive a full minimum wage.

The government also helps finance equipment for disabled workers – for example, an employee in a wheelchair who needs a lower table, or a blind worker who needs special software. The government also helps pay to train a worker with disabilities. The Industry Ministry says no budget has been approved for carrying out this process.

A ministry spokeswoman said the process for allotting special equipment for disabled workers had expanded significantly. She said this expansion required an additional budget, while the absence of a state budget for this year was complicating things further.

"The team was thus forced to discontinue its activity until the receipt of additional funds," she said. "We emphasize, however, that the subject is being handled with the treasury, which has not yet responded to the ministry's request for additional funds."

The treasury, for its part, said, "The Industry Ministry's budget for integrating the disabled is determined by the government. The treasury warned months ago about the expected deviation and the need to adapt funding to the budget framework. The Industry Ministry can decide to divert its own budget, based on priorities to be decided."

Meanwhile, the Industry Ministry agreed to transfer NIS 330,000 this week to Gil Vinesh's Kol Yakhol, a call center that employs 220 disabled workers. The money keeps the company in business for at least another month.

In recent weeks MKs submitted parliamentary questions about the company, and 21 MKs met in the Knesset last week with Vinesh and 45 employees.

Industry Minister Shalom Simhon said he had set up a special team to make recommendations about Kol Yakhol to be decided on by the government and the Knesset Finance Committee.

Vinesh said he wasn't pinning many hopes on the team because it appeared the recommendations would be submitted without consulting him.

"If the NIS 330,000 mentioned by the industry minister is transferred, we have breathing room until the end of March," said Vinesh. "If not, we'll close within a week."

Emil Salman