Are Haredi workers at HP Indigo who are paid less than non-Haredi workers, working side by side with them, justified in complaining of discrimination?
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Not according to HP Indigo, but the discovery of contractual disparities has evoked strong resentment and feelings of discrimination among the Haredi employees.
It all started when a group of Haredi workers, including graduates with degrees in computer sciences, were recruited by the outsourcing company Quali Test and directed to HP Indigo. The Haredi workers operated machinery alongside other workers recruited through MNPM, another outsourcing company. The Haredi workers soon learned that they were receiving significantly less pay than their coworkers, for identical work.
"We knew that high-tech jobs pay more than we were getting," says Itzik, who used an alias out of concern for his job. "We also found out that the other group, in addition to much higher pay, was getting more vacation days and better holiday gifts. We couldn't believe the gaps when we saw their contracts. We couldn't believe to what extent HP Indigo was exploiting us. Company managers agreed with us but said that their hands were tied. Quali Test also said they could pay more if HP Indigo did the same," asserts Itzik.
Labor contracts obtained by TheMarker showed that the starting salary of the Haredi workers was NIS 4,700 a month, including overtime, shift bonuses and meals, as well as social benefits. This rose to NIS 6,700 after one year, with a baseline salary of NIS 4,600, or about NIS 25 an hour. Contracts for workers from MNPM designated an hourly wage NIS 32, or NIS 6,000 a month before benefits.
Similar gaps arise in social benefits such as pension and vacation days, which are linked to the baseline salary. In addition, MNPM workers enjoyed 16 vacation days, as opposed to only 10 by Haredi workers. The former were also entitled to a professional development fund.
Alon Bar-Shani, manager of HP Indigo, responded in a letter of clarification addressed to HP Indigo employees that Haaretz's investigation "contained many inaccuracies, including the calculation of hourly wages paid to our employees. The report's conclusions are wrong. Our salaries are based on employee skills and performance, and on the nature of the job. ... One of our basic principles at HP Indigo is equality and employment diversity. We as a company, and you as workers and managers, further this principle on a daily basis. The report will not change our commitment to employ and nurture all workers, regardless of their background, religion or gender."
He told Haaretz that the Haredi workers can leave if they are unhappy, ignoring the fact that their contract stipulates a fine of NIS 5,000 for leaving within two years of being hired in exchange for their training. He also claimed that the work performed was not identical, and was done on different shifts, after their yeshiva studies.
The workers deny studying in a yeshiva, claiming that they worked the same shifts as MNPM workers. They backed this with worksheet printouts. Bar-Shani states that any breaches should be investigated, but thinks it reasonable that less qualified workers get paid less for similar work. He denies any discrimination based on their Haredi background.
Attorney Aryeh Avitan, who specializes in labor law, states that he believes any court would determine that HP Indigo had been discriminatory. "Haredi workers are inexperienced, and often agree to work for less pay," he says. "Employers and human resource companies exploit this. This is outrageous and insulting to human dignity."
Bar-Shani says, "We can't be coerced into providing equal pay and benefits. We're not the Histadrut (trade union), and can pay different wages based on different qualifications. There is no discrimination, and any accusation will be looked into. However, we do fire workers who tell others what they are paid, whether this is legal or not we don't like them looking into each other's business."
Attorney Ina Sultanovitz-David, commissioner of equal labor opportunities at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, says there is no law forbidding workers from comparing wages. "This is how they find out about discrimination, and the burden is on the employer to prove otherwise."
The company has fired six of its 11 Haredi workers. The workers say they were fired after complaining about their work conditions. Bar-Shani asserts they were found to be totally unsuitable for the job.
This is not the first instance of cheap Haredi employment. In 2007, TheMarker reported an employer who openly stated that he could hire two Haredi women instead of one experienced programmer. It's also not the first time Quali Test has run into these accusations. The company brands itself as a local, low-cost venture, which provides jobs, such as in the Margaliot project which employs 100 Haredi women. Quali Test settled a 2011 court case after being accused of not paying overtime wages.