Asylum Seekers in Israel Say New Law Robs Them of Wages

Withholding of 20 percent of their salaries designed to encourage them to leave country

Migrant workers and asylum seekers shop at south Tel Aviv's Hatikva market, August 11, 2015.
Moti Milrod

The new law mandating that employers of asylum seekers and labor migrants put aside 20 percent of workers’ salaries until they leave Israel has left employers confused, and labor advocates are saying that these workers are being penalized by more than the legally mandated 20 percent as a result.

The law took effect on May 1, and states that all employers of people who entered the country illegally must deposit 20 percent of the person’s salary – which generally is minimum wage - into a special fund, to be given to the person when he or she leaves Israel. The employer is supposed to contribute an additional 16 percent. The funds will be kept at Bank Mizrahi Tefahot, which won a tender. The law is designed to encourage people to leave the country on their own accord, as well as to make employers pay these workers benefits.

But in practice, it turns out that many employers are not aware of the law, or don’t know how much money to set aside, or how to do it. While the law states that the deposit will be determined based on the salary as calculated for severance pay, Kav LaOved (Workers Hotline) received evidence from workers indicating that the withholding was based on the entire salary, including travel reimbursement.

Substantial differences

The differences in calculations can work out to hundreds of shekels a month. The problem is particularly bad in the cleaning sector, which employs many migrants and asylum seekers. One worker contacted Kav LaOved after his employer withheld 1,086 shekels instead of 875 shekels. Another worker had 1,103 shekels withheld instead of 860 shekels.

Kav LaOved stated that the finance managers at cleaning subcontractors spoke with the Interior Ministry’s Population Authority, which instructed them to withhold from the entire salary.

Noa Kaufman, coordinator for refugees and asylum seekers at Kav LaOved, stated, “The Interior Ministry, in its haste to make things difficult for this population, passed a law that is not only unethical but also full of holes, creating misunderstanding and confusion among workers and employers. This law is creating chaos that’s difficult to handle.

“Not only is more than 20% of workers’ salaries being set aside, due to different interpretations and incorrect instructions, but the workers themselves don’t know where the money is going. They don’t have bank account information, and they can’t track what’s been put aside on their account.

In response, the Population Authority stated that it is acting in keeping with the law.

Kav LaOved has petitioned the High Court of Justice against the law. A hearing is set for the end of July.