The Bottom Line / Everything's Dandy

1. Very sensitive.

We've all heard of the plan by Finance Ministry Director General Joseph Bachar to combat poverty. We also all know how sensitive the matter is to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Given this heavy feeling, the treasury ruled that the freeze on welfare payments and minimum wage would continue into 2006. But the National Insurance Institute claimed that the freeze was valid only until the end of 2005.

The matter ended up on the desk of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who ruled Wednesday that the freeze was over, and the NII welfare payments, retirement benefits and minimum wage all ought to be updated immediately. This was the right and important decision, because all recipients of such payments - the weakest members of society - would benefit from a few extra shekels, and those earning minimum wage would receive an extra NIS 120 a month.

And what about Olmert? Possibly next week we will see him visiting a soup kitchen, accompanied by the press and cameras, who will all lap up his words on the injustices of poverty and gaps in society.

2. Unbiased advice

The Home Center chain of DIY stores likes to stress the objective advice it provides customers. About half a year ago, I discovered that some of the advice given by the chain is not that objective at all. I discovered that some of the "assistants" in Home Center branches are not store workers but staffers from suppliers.

They are paid according to how much of their employers' products they can shift. Clearly it is in their interest to have the innocent customer buy only their firm's products. In other words, there is no objective advice in a significant share in the Home Center chain.

I turned to Yitzhak Kimche, the commissioner for consumer protection at the Trade and Industry Ministry, who at the time knew nothing about it. He then called the chain and made them mark out each staffer provided by a supplier with a prominent name tag, as well as create a sign indicating to customers that these workers do not belong to the chain.

Kimche has not done his work properly. He did not define for the chain exactly what was required, he did not rule on the size of the name tag or the size, prominence or positioning of the warning signs - and all despite the fact that the DIY chain clearly wanted customers not to know how they were were being used.

So now if you visit a Home Center branch, you will see that the advisers do wear name tags, but they are small and in no way prominent. As for the signs, well I would be hard pressed to describe them as signs at all. They are small, almost invisible and written in tiny letters: "In order to improve service, this department has been strengthened by professional advisers by the leading brands in the market." In other words, Home Center is doing us a favor by "improving" its service through "professional advisers." Fantastic!

And where's Kimche? Is he frightened of the big business owners? Apparently he doesn't really care all that much about consumer protection. He could also visit a Home Center store, and see how the chain is making a mockery of him - and all Israel.