New Israeli Bill Would Allow Everyone - Even the Secular - to Not Work on Shabbat

The proposed legislation, which has gained approval of the Knesset's labor committee, stipulates that all employees, regardless of religious beliefs, don't have to work on their day of rest.

A bill that would allow Israeli employees to request not to work on Shabbat even if they’re not religiously observant was approved by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Monday. It received approval even though it was rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which decides whether the coalition will support the measure.

The bill states that all employees must be exempt from working on their weekly day of rest. It would specifically affect those who work in industries with permits to employ workers on Shabbat, such as hospitals, the media and hotels, said MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), one of the bill’s drafters.

Currently, only those who are religiously observant can demand to not work on Shabbat.

“We’ve reached the point where people lie and say that they observe Shabbat in order to have a day of rest — but anyone who wants to be off on the day of rest should be allowed to do so, regardless of his religious beliefs,” she said.

Lavie believes that the bill will not hurt employers. Since they are required to pay extra to those who work on Shabbat, there will always be people willing to work. “We can’t let the sword of dismissal hang over those who ask not to work on their day of rest,” she added. “Currently that’s a privilege reserved for the religious, and we want it to be available to all. The need to lie to receive time off goes against freedom of opportunity.”

Lavie noted that it’s unusual for a bill to get rejected by the ministerial committee, but receive approval by a Knesset committee instead.

The bill is next up for a vote in the Knesset plenum. The attorney general has stated that the Knesset coalition members are not required to vote according to the decision of the ministerial committee, she added.

MK Dov Khenin of the Joint List praised the bill, saying, “the right to a day of rest should not be dependent on a person’s religious beliefs.”

Representatives of the Israel Chambers of Commerce asked that industries with permits to employ workers on Shabbat be exempted from the bill.