The Non-employment Service

Find someone an inappropriate job, cause him to refuse the work, cancel his benefits, and receive a bonus. The state saves money and you profit.

Remember the great outcry when the so-called Wisconsin employment program was going to be implemented in Israel, through which workers in the program are compensated for rescinding welfare payments? The criticism at the time related to the very fact of the elimination of benefits, as well as that it was to be carried out by employees of private companies. This means that a clearly governmental function was being outsourced into private hands. Opponents of the move advocated continued and even enhanced operation of the state employment service, seen as an arm of the state and responsible for the welfare of its citizens.

The outcry worked, and the incentive program was rescinded two years ago. The Wisconsin program staff now receive a bonus only when they successfully place a job seeker in a position for at least nine months. But lo and behold, in Sunday's Haaretz, Dana Weiler-Polak reported that, for two years now, employees of the state employment service have been receiving economic incentives for successful placement of job seekers and for the rescission of unemployment benefits and income guarantees.

But the employment service has become a non-employment service. Find someone an inappropriate job, cause him to refuse the work, cancel his benefits, and receive a bonus. The state saves money and you profit. It is of course not so simple (although it can't be denied that this option exists). According to the deputy director general of the state employment service, "Refusals are part of the essence of our job. If someone doesn't agree to accept employment, there is no alternative."

Even if we assume that rescinding benefits is an essential tool of the state to avoid "extortion" on the part of those capable of working but just don't feel like it, why is rescinding the benefit a reason to compensate the employment service worker with a bonus? Even if turning cancellation of unemployment or welfare benefits into something which merits a reward is a relatively small thing, it essentially lays bare the significance and the intentions of the economic policy followed in this country for a long time.

First of all, if a state employee receives a bonus for rescinding state benefits, the implication is that rescinding benefits is a goal the state is seeking to accomplish. That is to say, the state sees itself benefiting when someone is added to the ranks of the unemployed without any source of income, including welfare payments. It's a net savings. The state's message is: "Leave me alone. Don't bother me."

Second, the system totally ignores the fact that very frequently, the salary proposed to these same unemployed people may not even be as much as the welfare benefit - and this is not because welfare benefits in Israel are so high. They aren't. The minimum wage here is very low. Frequently it comes without fringe benefits, but with degrading treatment. So why should someone prefer such employment conditions over a welfare payment? The state of Israel thinks it entirely reasonable that, while the CEO of Super-Sol receives a salary of NIS 412,000 a month, he pays his cashier (and not out of his pocket!) NIS 3,500 a month. In essence, from the perspective of those who determine our economic policy, this is a natural state of affairs.

Third, what is most destructive is the message that encourages people to be at one another's throats. As Margaret Thatcher, the high priestess of neo-liberalism said, "There is no such thing as society." There are only individuals. When the money saved by rescinding one person's welfare payment goes directly into the pocket of the person who deprived him of it, the message is clear: one person is living at the expense of another. When one person suffers, the other benefits. Everyone should save only his own skin, and let the next person die.

Thatcher also believed the economy was the means, but the goal was to mold the soul. All of the politicians and the wealthiest members of our society are molding us: divide and conquer.