Dreams of Extended Weekend in Israel Moves Farther Away

Government panel proposes plan for just two Sundays off annually, gradually rising to four.

People sit, walk and ride bikes on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv.
Rafael Ben-Ari / Dreamstime

Proposed legislation to give Israeli workers some Sundays off has been whittled down to just a couple of days a year.

Under new proposals, put together by a government committee headed by Eli Groner, director of the Prime Minister’s Office, only two Sundays a year will be official days off initially, with the number gradually rising to four. That’s fewer than Kulanu Party lawmaker Eli Cohen proposed in the original legislation he introduced last year that called for six long weekends — although in practice it would add only four because two other holiday days would be pulled from the calendar.

Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn had an even more generous proposal: He urged the government to declare six Sundays a year days off and cut the official work week by two hours. That would make a full-time work week just 40 hours, instead of the 43 it is today.

The Groner proposal stands a good chance of winning approval when it is presented to the cabinet this Sunday. But the Cohen and Nissenkorn versions are likely to be reinserted into the bill when it comes up for deliberations in the Knesset Labor and Welfare committee, Knesset sources said on Thursday.

“Groner has become the right wing concerning this issue, siding with the industrialists,” said one source familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named. “In the center is Eli Cohen’s proposal and on the left is Nissenkorn. But it’s worth remembering that the Histadrut chairman faces elections in May so it’s likely he’ll want to show some achievements.”

Israel’s industrialists have been opposed to the law from the start. Not only will they be forced to pay employees the same salaries for less work, but businesses that want to operate on the Sunday vacation days will have to pay extra for “weekend” work. That is because the Sundays off won’t be considered a “day of rest,” when most employment is banned.

The Groner committee also recommended that the long weekends be coordinated with the Education Ministry to ensure that schools have the same days off during the year.