International Workers' Day 2013: The Best and Worst Jobs in Israel

Israel's increasingly polarized labor market has yielded some wacky results, like port workers making ten times as much as lawyers. Here's a breakdown of the status of workers in the country today.

It could be argued that pyramid structures in the capital markets are being dismantled. But rather the opposite is taking place in the job market. Intensifying jobs churn has created a stratified system, where some employees are privileged and others are disadvantaged, even within the same organization.

The public sector

Longtime employees of government monopolies

Salary: Very high

Job security: Very high

At the top of the pyramid are the long-time employees of government monopolies, such as the Israel Electric Corporation, the Mekorot Water Company and the Ashdod and Haifa port companies.

The pilots at the ports – whose recent labor sanctions over an employment dispute caused persistent unloading delays at the Ashdod Port – are the elite of the elite, raking in NIS 60,000 to 77,000 per month. That is more than the prime minister. The average wage at the ports companies is NIS 22,000 to 25,000. IEC workers do pretty well, too, earning some NIS 30,000 on average.

Public sector professionals

Salary: Very high

Job security: Very high

Another privileged class of public-sector workers consists of senior physicians and hospital department heads. They make at least NIS 60,000 and often more. Many of them also have private practices. As a bonus, hospital department heads are appointed for life. Similarly, the average Defense Ministry research worker earns a gross salary of NIS 50,000. Court registrars make NIS 32,300 on average.

Civil servants on personal contracts

Salary: Relatively high

Job security: Low

The directors general of government ministries make some NIS 38,000, a low salary compared to their counterparts in the private sector, especially since they do not get bonuses. But the connections they make during their tenures are priceless. Their job security is particularly poor, but they know their positions are merely springboards to better ones.

Also enjoying good employment terms are the some 8,000 people (11% of Civil Service workers) who are hired on personal contracts and work for government ministries in specialized professions, including engineering, architecture and computer programming. These workers earn between NIS 15,000 and NIS 25,000.

Junior and mid-level professionals

Salary: From low to high  

Job security: High

The biggest group in the public sector is made up of tens of thousands of clerks, teachers, nurses, newly minted doctors, social workers, interns in the State Prosecutor's Office and other non-senior workers. Many of these workers' salaries are so low that they qualify for income-maintenance payments.

The wages in this broad category range from NIS 5,718 (the average for legal interns) to NIS 11,000 (the average for social workers and teachers) all the way up to NIS 15,000 to 17,000 (nurses) and NIS 18,600 (for public defenders).

Subcontracted workers in the public sector

Salary: Low

Job security: None

On May 1, 2012, a new agreement reached by the Histadrut labor federation and the Finance Ministry was supposed to take effect, improving the deplorable employment terms for subcontracted workers in the public sector.

At first, the Histadrut declared it would not rest until all subcontracted workers were directly employed by the government. The government flatly refused, and the labor federation had to make do with a limited agreement that included some improvement to these workers’ conditions. Their monthly wage was raised to NIS 4,500, and it was agreed that they would be eligible for advanced training funds and increased pension contributions. A year later, and nearly a year and a half after a major strike that shut down the economy on behalf of subcontractors, most of them still are not benefiting from the agreement.

The private sector

Longtime white-collar, organized workers

Salary: High

Job security: High

While most public sector workers have maintained job security, thanks to tenure and have other benefits secured by their collective labor agreements, organized workers in the private sector are becoming an extinct species. The private sector workers who still earn high salaries and job stability are primarily those employed by former government companies or quasi-government concerns like Bezeq, El Al and Israel Chemicals, where the union culture still prevails. Bank workers also fall into this group: The average wage cost at the banks, according to reports last year, is NIS 23,000 to NIS 31,000 per month.  

At such companies, there may be a significant difference between the employment terms of veteran workers and newer hires. At times, the workers' committees got the employers to preserve their good conditions by “selling out” new and future hires and agreeing to lesser terms for them.

Unorganized white-collar workers

Salary: High

Job security: Low

The high-tech, communications, legal and financial sectors have almost no union shops, but are considered attractive fields to work in because they give employees a pretty fair deal. While they can’t offer job security, they boast good salaries, status and interesting work.

Among lawyers, of which there is a glut in Israel, starting salaries are relatively low at NIS 6,000 to NIS 9,000. But most lawyers who survive the early years end up earning at least NIS 20,000 per month. Mid-level advertising executives earn around NIS 15,000, while the average salary in architecture is around NIS 10,000.

High-tech has been branded as the country’s highest paying sector. Salaries in the fields of computers, communications and consumer electronics is around NIS 20,000. But in some areas, like development, salaries can be double that. The downside is that the professional life expectancy in high-tech is particularly low.

Blue-collar organized workers

Salary: Low

Job security: Medium to low

Going down the pyramid, we find unionized industrial workers, among them employees at Tnuva, Osem, Strauss, Sano, Teva and factories in outlying areas, like Ofe Tov, Tirat Zvi and Pri Hagalil. At most of these plants, salaries are not very high. Food manufacturing and supermarket companies pay production workers between NIS 5,500 and NIS 6,000.

Employees of small to mid-size businesses

Salary: Low

Job security: Low

More than a million workers have no privileges at all. They are not organized and thus have no union protection, and their salaries are low. They work in industry, commerce, retail chains and service firms, mostly at the small and medium-sized companies that constitute 90% of Israel’s businesses.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the average wage is NIS 4,300 (the minimum wage) in the hospitality and food sector, NIS 5,472 in the entertainment and leisure sector, NIS 5,993 in the agriculture sector, NIS 7,917 in commerce and NIS 8,517 in construction.

Freelancers

Salary: Varies

Job security: None

Not only do freelancers suffer from a complete lack of job security, they are also victims of one of Israel’s chronic ills – its poor payment ethic. According to Lahav, a group representing freelancers and independent business owners, Israel has some 350,000 independent businesspeople, a quarter-million of whom employ only themselves.

While freelancers as a sector are not necessarily deprived – some work with several clients at once and earn a good income – many of them do the lion’s share of their work for one client and yet do not get the social and pension benefits enjoyed by salaried employees.

Subcontracted workers, temporary workers and hourly workers

Salary: Very low

Job security: None

Subcontracted workers generally have less education, earn minimum wage and are subject to exploitation. The hope is that new legislation to increase enforcement of labor laws will help preserve their rights. Subcontracted workers often feel unconnected to their workplaces, and those who are paid by the hour are liable to find their monthly pay considerably reduced during months with holidays.

Even below subcontracted workers are temporary workers, who are employed for short, agreed-upon periods, after which they proceed to their next short-term assignments. These are usually young people starting out or women who are prepared to take any work they can find – yet another reason for the wage gaps in Israel.

With declining unemployment, Israel has seen few workers' demonstrations of late.
Olivier Fitoussi