I, too, was a subcontracted worker once, working in the security details of the ministries of housing and construction, public security and science and technology. When in 2005, after three years in that job, I landed a job on the Jerusalem Post website and tried to leave security, the company – Mikud Security – refused to pay my last paycheck on the illegal pretense that I owed them my last salary to offset the cost of the training course from two years earlier.

So I pretended to return to work, called in sick for 10 days until my last paycheck went through, and only then told them I had left. The following day I showed up at Mikud headquarters in Givat Shaul in Jerusalem to return the handgun issued to me for my work, and was called in to meet Eitan, a senior executive at the 4,500-employee company, who said the company would sue me for 40,000 shekels for breach of contract. My monthly salary was just under 5,000 (roughly $16,000 annually). Luckily, my dad is a lawyer and I’m not an idiot. I told Eitan he’s a liar, and that I had the time and patience to canvas all the company’s employees past and present and launch a combined lawsuit for millions in unpaid salaries. I never heard from them again.

Israel’s labor unions are on a general strike to end the phenomenon of subcontracted labor. I honestly don’t know whether the problem is the subcontracting itself – but there is a desperate problem in enforcement of basic labor rights for those earning the lowest salaries in this country.

If it happened to me, a fluent Hebrew speaker working as the armed guard of cabinet ministers, you can bet it’s happening every day to illiterate immigrant cleaning staff. Israel’s poorest workers routinely lose their hard-earned salary because subcontractors cheat and steal with impunity. Until the likes of Eitan the Mikud executive face criminal consequences for a policy of systematic theft, the problem won’t truly be solved.

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