Alex Rif
Social-Cultural Entrepreneur, Founder of The Cultural Brigade and Israeli-Russian Poet

Contract workers at the forefront of fighting Corona

My parents, who have been working for more than 20 years as contract workers in cleaning and electricity, continue working throughout the coronavirus attack without change. Both of them passed their retirement age and are in a risk group. They are not the doctors or nurses who get the public glory of saving our lives. They can’t be like the high-tech workers who are instructed to work from home to keep them safe, but still get their well-paid salary. They work with no proper protective equipment, endangering themselves without getting fair wages, employee rights, or public appreciation. 

The proportion of contractor workers in Israel is 5% – 10% of all workers. In the public service, their rate is estimated as high as 20%. In developed countries, contracting employment rates are only 1.5%. Over 50% (59,000 workers) in the security, cleaning, and home caregiving fields are Russian-speakers who immigrated during the ’90s. A lot of them are not retiring, even though they passed their retirement age, because their expected pension will likely bring them to poverty. Instead of appreciating their essential work, they are being exploited and underestimated. 

Ever since we immigrated to Israel in 1991, my parents haven’t been unemployed for a day. My mother’s cleaning job pays only 2 NIS per hour above minimum wage, and my father’s paycheck is just one-third of the amount the contractor gets for my father’s work. When I worked in the Ministry of Economy in the field of workers’ rights, it took me two years to convince my mother to send an anonymous inspector check to her company because she was afraid to lose her job. The inspection found payment deficiencies for overtime, mistakes in vacation days count, and more. Unfortunately, my parents’ personal story is not unique when it comes to abusing these weakest workers in the Israeli economy.  

The 2017 Public Employee Contractor’s Report showed that 53% of all public and government sector contractors earned less than 6,000 NIS a month (Minimum wage was 5,000 NIS). Also, 87% of contractor workers gained less than 9,500 NIS, the national average salary. There is no sufficient data about the privet and business sector’s contract workers. Not inevitable that their situation is worse.

Tristan Egolf, in his book “Lord of the Barnyard,” showed us how an underestimated garbage-men went on a strike that had horrific consequences, paralyzing community life and degrading it into abomination and violence. Let’s not get to that. Hopefully, after the Corona crisis is over, our societies would remember the contract workers’ essential work, and reward them with fair wages and proper employee rights. 

A Simple Million – Alex Rif
Translation: Nadavi Noked

My mom’s 65 years and two months old.
The retirement age for women in Israel is 62, or so I’m told.
Twice a day, at least, she calls
even if I don’t answer.

My mom’s been working as a contract cleaner for a generation.
When we made aliyah, she swept high school floors
for the system of education.
For 20 years now she’s been in a hi-tech company,
their coffee is a wonder of creation,
especially the mocha flavored.

My mom’s pension will be 1,400 NIS.
The National Insurance will pay an extra 1,250,
that’s the way it is.
When she’s fired, to make ends meet,
she’ll finally have the opportunity to seize
her asshole.

*From “Silly Girl of the Regime” (Pardes 2018) – Alex Rif
**Thank you, Kav LaOved, for the data and Moshe Stern for your help with this piece.  

About the Author
Alex Rif synthesizes storytelling and cultural-hacking with her public policy experience to amplify unheard voices in Israeli society – in particular, Russian-speaking immigrants, women, and Arabs. Founder and CEO of The Cultural Brigade, she helped rebrand Russian-Israeli culture and made the Russian-speaking immigrants feel at home. Alex was recognized by ‘Lady Globes’ as one of the 20 most influential Israeli female activists. She is the author of the award-winning poetry book, ‘Silly Girl of the Regime'.
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