SodaStream in Spat Over Working Hours for Bedouin Women

Staff are being required to toil 12-hour shifts, which the company says is entirely aboveboard.

Scarlett Johansson representing SodaStream
Courtesy of SodaStream

SodaStream, the Israeli maker of home-carbonation devices, has been accused of overworking Bedouin women employees, but the company that’s famous for spokeswoman Scarlett Johansson says it’s simply adhering to workers’ contracts.

At SodaStream’s new factory in the Negev, female production-line workers, many of them mothers and Bedouin, have been required to work from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., employees say.

The contract that new workers signed, which has been obtained by TheMarker, stipulates a nine-and-a-half-hour day, including breaks required by law.

But recently, workers were asked to fulfill a stipulation that requires them to work more or fewer hours based on the company’s needs. This can include shifts up to 12-hours long that include additional breaks. There can also be 12-hour evening shifts, and SodaStream can notify employees on short notice.

Around 300 people work in the factory that opened in mid-May. The plant is expected to eventually employ 1,000 people and replace SodaStream’s factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial area in the West Bank.

The government helped fund the new industrial area in an attempt to attract large plants and jobs in the northern Negev – including for Bedouin residents of nearby Rahat. The industrial area is a joint venture of the town of Lehavim, the Bnei Shimon Regional Council and Rahat.

Many of the plant’s workers are women from Rahat who were glad to find work near home. The hourly wage, as is common for production-line workers, is a shade above the minimum wage: 24 shekels ($6.63).

The workers have complained that they have no way of knowing for how long they will have to work, and when. They said they were surprised by the demand to work longer hours and were unhappy, but management reportedly would not budge.

“The women are less well off and won’t make trouble, certainly not when their boss is a neighbor. Lots of workers waited for this factory, the government supports it, and the Bedouin are happy to get a chance to join the workforce. But this isn’t the way to do it,” said a source close to the situation.

“Remember that Arab women, especially mothers, are the hardest community to integrate into the workforce. If SodaStream offers shifts until 4:30 P.M., the women can be expected to keep to it, and overtime will be done by people who really want to do it.”

Alham al-Kamalaat, who heads the Yedid rights group in Rahat, said she had received a raft of complaints from women against SodaStream. “These are women who want to work, but they are also mothers who want to spend enough time with their children,” she said.

Ran Melamed, Yedid’s deputy director for communications and social policy, said he had called on Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and the Chief Scientist’s Office to examine whether SodaStream met the conditions of government grants. If not, the company should change its employment policies, he said.

The company said it had done nothing wrong. “SodaStream has built a special [production] line that lets people with families join the workforce in the framework of short shifts. All full-time employees were explicitly told they would be required to work shifts of 12 hours when needed and according to the production plan, and according to the [law governing working hours],” SodaStream said in a statement.

“During the summer, demand for the company’s products increased, so, accordingly, the factory’s work hours were expanded. Workers were therefore asked to work 12-hour shifts – including breaks totaling one hour, more than is required by law – as they were told before being hired.”

According to SodaStream, “flexible and creative solutions were offered to the few employees who said they could not adjust.”

The SodaStream plant in the West Bank has suffered international criticism and even boycott threats. This summer the company has been accused of firing 60 Palestinian workers over a dispute about the food they received during their shifts to break the day-long Ramadan fasts. Workers went on a wildcat strike, and most of the fired employees got their jobs back.

The trade union representing the plant’s Palestinian employees said that in early July, evening-shift workers complained that the food was insufficient, but they were barred from bringing food from home because of Jewish dietary laws. As a result, there wasn’t enough food after the 16-hour fasts.