The last few days have seen a successful end to a long legal battle over demands to instate excavation workers as regular employees of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). About three years ago, dozens working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at the archaeological site of Ras al-Amud near Jerusalem were summoned by a representative of Brik, the personnel firm through which they were employed. He told them that all who had worked for more than nine months would not be hired in the future. Four days later, workers at the Um Tuba site, all Brik employees, were told the same thing. None received a letter of dismissal.
The laborers, East Jerusalemites between the ages of 45 to 55, had been working for years at IAA sites. In despair they turned to a Brik recruiter but received the same reply: everyone who had worked for more than nine months was to be dismissed. On visiting the Employment Service in East Jerusalem, however, they saw Brik representatives interviewing candidates for their jobs. Indeed, from a report submitted to the Jerusalem Labor Court, it emerged that in the month of their dismissal, January 2009, Brik asked the Employment Service for no less than 70 new laborers. The Service responded by sending Brik 93 candidates.
The misconduct was both Brik’s and the IAA’s. Both were attempting to evade Article A12 of the Amendment to the Law on Manpower Companies, which went into effect on January 1, 2008. It stipulates that after nine months with a personnel firm, workers must be directly employed by the body for which they are doing the work (in this case, the IAA). The Amendment’s aim was to set a time limit for employment via personnel firms, where the work is unstable and lacks social benefits. The Brik laborers should have become IAA employees in October 2008, receiving benefits as set by collective agreements.
Twenty-one workers approached the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN) and organized in it. Represented by attorneys Basam Karkabi and Eran Golan, they began a struggle for direct employment within the IAA. In 2010 the regional Labor Court determined that the IAA must instate the workers, according to the amendment A12. The Authority appealed this decision, but a few days ago the National Labor Court ruled that the appeal shall be stricken from the record and that the IAA must accept these workers into its regular staff, granting them full rights.
During the trial, the IAA and Brik claimed that the workers were part-time. Yet the court ruled that the Human Resources Companies Law does not distinguish between full- and part-time workers, and that if the workers had been employed continuously for nine months, they were entitled to be accepted as regular employees for all intents and purposes. Appealing to the National Court, the IAA and Brik waged a lengthy battle of attrition to undermine this groundbreaking verdict, which has far-reaching consequences for contractor workers in general. Finally, after the President of the National Labor Court, Justice Nili Arad, announced that she intends to rule against the Authority, the appeal was removed.
WAC-MAAN issued a response: “We view this legal triumph as real progress in the war against the exploitation of contractor workers. The union intends to ensure that the ruling is carried out in practice and that the workers’ rights are fully respected. It must be noted that this decision carries importance not just for the 21 plaintiffs, whose suffering has come to an end today, but for many hundreds of excavation workers who awaited this ruling with baited breath. On the national level, this precedent breaks down the unacceptable distinction between part-time and full-time workers. The distinction is artificial, and provides grounds for employers to increase profits at the expense of their workers. Now that the issue of contractor workers has been placed on the public agenda, this precedent constitutes a major victory in the struggle for fair employment in Israel.”
For more details contact: Assaf Adiv, Executive Director of WAC-MAAN: 0504330034