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Our turn to care for caregivers

The migrant workers who serve our sick, elderly and disabled are themselves exploited and denied rights

As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” For the tens of thousands of “out of sight” migrant caregivers living and working in Israel’s periphery, the implications of this phrase are grave.

Some 60,000 migrants are employed throughout Israel in the caregiving sector. These individuals provide round the clock domestic care to senior citizens and the disabled, as well as others requiring long-term care, in order to ensure that the needs of Israel’s most ailing populations are met.

Despite their dedication, migrant caregivers are the only group excluded from the protections guaranteed in the Hours of Work and Rest Law. While individuals employed in Israel are typically entitled to 36 hours of continuous rest, this omission means that migrant caregivers can be legally made to work 24 hours per day, 6 to 7 days per week without overtime compensation. Moreover, employers are only legally required to pay these individuals the monthly minimum wage of 4,650 NIS.

Roughly half of all migrant caregivers come from the Philippines, with the rest hailing from other Southeast Asian or Eastern European countries. Many come with the hope of being able to send money to support their families back home.

In order to secure a job, however, many migrant caregivers are first forced to pay illegal mediation fees to placement agencies — on average, these fees total more than $8,500. Bound by debt, many caregivers therefore spend the first several years of their employment working merely to settle the loans they took out to pay these agencies.

Once employed, migrant caregivers often continue to be exploited. They are only legally guaranteed the monthly minimum wage, and many do not receive the entire set of social rights to which they are entitled. Less than half of all migrant caregivers regularly receive a single day off of work each week. Most only get 2 to 24 hours off. Some get none.

“At my last job, I never got to go out. I stayed there for a year and a half and I never went out by myself, not even for five minutes,” said one migrant caregiver named Lailani, adding, “Sometimes I would tell my employer, ‘I want to go out, I need to go out.’ I just needed a little peace, but I never got to go. Never.”

More than half of all migrant caregivers live and work in the periphery. Because the government places geographical restrictions on the locations where migrant workers are allowed to work, those who provide caregiving services in these remote regions are prohibited from seeking employment elsewhere in the country. Furthermore, because there is no official body in Israel that provides assistance to this vulnerable group of workers, migrant caregivers only have one organization to turn to when their labor is exploited: Kav LaOved. Given that they receive such little time off — and may be located as far as 5 hours away from the closest Kav LaOved office — migrant caregivers living in the periphery have little hope for recourse; it is virtually impossible for them to access the services they need. While domestic work is already isolated by nature, these workers are particularly alienated.

One caregiver working in the south of Israel, for example, reported that she worked 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and only took one day off per month. After ten years, she finally used one of those days off to travel to a Kav LaOved office. It was only then that she discovered she had been underpaid and denied other essential rights the entire time of her employment.

This paradigm needs to change. Migrant caregivers in the periphery desperately need access to resources. In order to try and reach this out-of-sight group of workers, Kav LaOved is currently fundraising in the hope to provide the tools and knowledge necessary for migrant workers to stand up for their labor rights. As it stands, they are currently left unprotected and exposed to exploitation, through holes in the Israeli labor code, with little opportunity to fight for, or even become aware of, their rights.

For years, these individuals have filled an irreplaceable role in Israeli society by offering their dedicated service night and day to the sick, elderly, and disabled. The neglect they’ve received in return is inexcusable — particularly for those working in remote regions. For too long, migrant caregivers have thanklessly toiled to ensure that the needs of some of Israel’s most disadvantaged populations are met. It’s our turn to ensure that they are finally cared for in return.

About the Author
Sydney Taylor is a 2015 Kosberg Fellow studying at The LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. She is currently interning for Kav LaOved.
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