Pelephone Backtracks on Ending Ties With Disabled Workers

The cell-phone company faced criticism for withdrawing contracts with companies that provide call centers for Pelephone, and whose employees include the handicapped and Israeli Arabs.

Faced with sharp criticism, cellular telephone operator Pelephone said Monday it was likely to withdraw plans to end contracts with one of two companies that employed the handicapped, people living in the periphery and Israeli Arabs.

Call Yachol, which employs 200 severely handicapped people, and Tikshuv, which operates call centers in outlying parts of the country, had provided call centers for Pelephone. Both had fallen victim to Pelephone's plans to cut costs as it copes with a new and highly competitive mobile-telephone market.

But only hours after informing both companies that it was severing relations with them, Pelephone said it would try to continue hiring Call Yachol's services. The cell phone company had come under fire for cutting ties with handicapped workers while preserving the high salaries of its top executives.

"Pelephone management has decided to suspend the decision and will try to find a solution together with Call Yachol. We hope the solution will be achieved with help from the government," the company said. "Pelephone is the only company in the economy that employs such a large number of handicapped and sees Call Yachol as a national and community project."

Gil Winch, who founded Call Yachol in 2008, said he was pleased by the decision. For Tikshuv, losing the contract to provide services to Pelephone would have been a serious blow. But for Call Yachol, ending the contract would have forced it to shut down altogether. Pelephone had been its first client, and for many years its only one. Even today, Pelephone remains the main source of the call center's revenue.

Over the last five years, said Pelephone, it had paid Call Yachol NIS 20 million for its services. The cell phone company said it hoped the government would step in to save its dealings with Call Yachol by subsidizing the call center as a Development Zone A business under the Law for the Encouragement of Capital Investment.

The company's call center representatives are aged 20 to 65, most of them with some kind of disability - but without any cognitive impairment. They receive a wage equal to the average in the economy.