Court orders cancellation of migrant worker binding arrangement

As a result of a principled petition submitted to the Supreme Court by The Hotline for Migrant Workers, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Kav La`Oved – Hotline for Migrant Workers, and Physicans for Human Rights – Israel, the Supreme court ordered the cancellation of the policy of binding migrant workers to one specific employer.

On 30 March 2006, the Supreme Court accepted the petition submitted by a number of human rights organizations, and ruled that the policy of binding migrant workers to their Israeli employers violates their basic rights and must therefore be revoked. Justices Mishael Cheshin, Edmond Levy and Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, ordered the state to prepare a new policy for the employment of migrant workers within six months, which will not include the binding of workers to a specific employer. According to the binding arrangement, a worker who leaves his/her employer for any reason whatsoever, be it because of their terms of employment, untenably low wages, or because he/she is “transferred” to an alternative employer by his/her former employer (in many cases the worker does not know that by so doing he/she is breaching the conditions of his work visa), he/she becomes a criminal and an illegal resident who can therefore be expelled from the country. The petition was submitted almost four years ago by Attorney Einat Albin from the Welfare Justice Program at Tel-Aviv University in the name of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Hotline for Migrant Workers, Kav La`Oved, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, in cooperation with The Adva Center and the organization: Commitment to Peace and Social Justice.

The ruling that was issued by Justice Edmond Levy states that the binding arrangement, which conditions the issuance of a work visa to a migrant worker for work in the fields of agriculture, home nursing, or industry with one specific employer, disproportionately violates his/her basic rights primarily the right to dignity, freedom and autonomy. Justice Levy further emphasizes that this arrangement undermines the balance that should exist between an employee and an employer, and denies the migrant worker the ability to negotiate on his or her own behalf. This situation creates fertile ground for multiple forms of exploitation of the worker by the employer, including phenomena such as delayed payment, the payment of a salary that is lower than the minimum wage, the non-provision of social benefits, the confiscation of the worker`s passport by the employer, and the provision of disgraceful living conditions. Justice Cheshin added that “one cannot avoid the conclusion – a painful and shameful conclusion – that the migrant worker has become the employer`s vassal, as the binding arrangement has created a modern form of slavery. The binding arrangement, which is itself assertive and controlling, allows the state to bind the hands and feet [of a migrant worker] with cuffs and chains to an employer who “imported” them to the country”.

The justices chose not to examine, at this point, the new arrangement that relates to the employment of migrant workers in the construction sector, which differs from the policy for workers in the fields of agriculture, home nursing and industry. According to this arrangement, which came into practice in May 2005, the workers are bound to employment agencies that can move them between various employers. The justices criticized this arrangement also but chose not to examine its legal status at this point, as it has not yet been in place for a sufficient period of time. However, the court ordered the state to closely supervise the implementation of this new arrangement and in particular the practice of transferring responsibility of migrant workers from one employment agency to another.

The petitioning organizations welcome the Supreme Court`s principled ruling; view it as a significant achievement, and hope that the state will adopt a new and creditable policy that will ensure the basic rights of migrant workers. In the words of Attorney Itai Svirski from the Tel-Aviv University Law and Welfare Program, who represented the petitioning organizations, the cancellation of the policy will also benefit the Israeli employment market, which allowed employers to choose to use the services of migrant workers, who are easy to employ under exploitative terms, in place of Israeli workers. The cancellation of the policy should – over time – result in improved conditions of employment in a number of branches of employment, which were manned, up to this point, by migrant workers and were characterized by low-grade employment terms and salaries.

last updated : 23/04/06

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Categories: The Right to Equality, Women's Rights


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