Rehabilitating Hameshakem

What is Hameshakem? As its website briefly explains, it is a company devoted to arranging employment for the aged and disabled.

The most annoying news report this year, one that actually reflects our entire warped existence, appeared almost two weeks ago. Hameshakem announced that it is closing down on December 31, today, because the Finance Ministry isn't giving it any more budgets.

It turns out that because the minimum wage increased, Hameshakem began to run a deficit, and it cannot pay wages.

The company handles 2,900 disabled workers, employed around the country, 5 hours a day, who earn 73% of the minimum wage.

Have we sunk that low? Could it be that the treasury doesn't have a few million shekels to prevent 2,900 disabled people, earning peanuts, from being thrown onto the streets? Is it not glaringly obvious that for a disabled person, a job he's held for years, that is integral to his routine, can be key to his self-confidence? And that without it, his mental and physical well-being may deteriorate to the point that it will cost the state far more to rehabilitate him?

But once the initial spasm of outrage has passed, it turns out there is ample reason for some more. Because behind the story we know hides the real story.

The Ministry of Labor and Welfare has long been trying to investigate matters at Hameshakem. They have been trying to understand its costs, the number of workers the company has, and the cost to the taxpayer of the top people. The suspicion arose that the reason Hameshakem has budget problems is its bloated mechanism, and the ones getting stiffed are the disabled.

But Hameshakem's chief executive, a political appointment by Shas, refuses to supply figures. Hence the dispute.

The management of Hameshakem did not cavil at advising the 2,900 workers that at the end of December, the company would be closed down, though they know the disabled population is highly sensitive and would be subject to anxiety. But it didn't advise the union, to the intense ire of the Histadrut labor federation.

At the end of the day, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson granted Hameshakem NIS 2.5 million to tide it over, conditional on the company allowing a proper audit of its spending. And that's really annoying too.

When it comes to any civilian budget matter whatever, the finance minister and his officialdom have demonstrated their fists of iron, involving audits, wage cuts and layoffs.

But when it comes to the army, the heroes at the treasury turn into cringing bunny rabbits. The army is already demanding a gigantic budget increase, and after a short debate the prime minister handed down his ruling: it would get NIS 1.9 billion more.

The finance minister did not demand that as a precondition for getting the money, his accountants investigate redundancies between the Finance Ministry and Defense Ministry, or that the army present a plan to cut back the number of top officers and battalions, or that it raise the retirement age immediately and close down unnecessary foreign representations. Nothing. The only argument was about how much the army would actually get.