Labor Activists Say Successor to Exploitative Hebrew University Cleaning Firm Is No Better

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Social activists say the cleaning contractor hired by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to replace a company whose contract was terminated because it underpaid its workers is also violating workers' rights of its employees.

The workers, who clean the student dorms, kept their jobs when the contractors were changed, but their new boss has reportedly begun firing employees who had complained about the previous contractor's labor violations.

A coalition of students from several labor and social advocacy organizations had fought for the cleaners' rights under the previous company, Dynamica.

Through the Bema'aglei Tzedek organization the students approached attorney Arie Avitan, who specializes in monitoring human resource agencies. After researching the issue, Avitan said he found three major labor violations under the first contractor, Dynamica.

It deducted NIS 15 from each employee's monthly paycheck for local union dues, despite the absence of such a union. It changed the way that work hours were calculated in a way that according to Avitan had a negative effect on workers' wages, and only 10 percent of the pension premiums required by law were being deducted.

Within the past few days the new contractor, Hetz Or, fired three long-time employees.

According to the students, they were among those who were involved in the battle against Dynamica that eventually led the university to end its association with the company.

One of the workers who was dismissed this week is Fatma Shatawi, who had worked cleaning the dorms for nine years. She said her supervisor told her the owner of the company had decided to fire all the cleaning workers who had been with the previous contractor.

Criminal exploitation

Activists Martin Wiler and Yael Sinai say the new developments prove once again that hiring workers through a personnel agency is an opportunity for ongoing exploitation, and that the university has responded weakly to "criminal exploitation."

Hebrew University said in a response that it takes the rights of human resource company workers very seriously and closely monitors the protection of those rights. "The university strictly ensures that all tenders for cleaning companies include a pledge to uphold all labor laws and collective bargaining agreements," the statement said.

The university also said it was withholding payments to the previous cleaning company until it paid its debts to the workers and that it was unaware the new company intended to fire all the previous workers and would investigate the matter and "take all possible steps."

Dynamica CEO Yoav Yaakobi, said: "Since our company employs many people and since the request for a response did not include the name of a worker, we cannot check the claims. However, our company is and will continue to be strict about paying wages according to the law."

Hetz Or CEO Oron Iluk said its agreement with the university did not require it to retain the previous workers. He said they were fired because he found them "unsuitable" and not because they were labor agitators.