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Diggers’ Wages

 First published: Yedioth Aharonot, “24 hours” supplement (Hebrew), 2 Nov. 2009 by Jonathan Ben Efrat They earn NIS 2000 per month, are dismissed every nine months, and have few rights:...
 First published: Yedioth Aharonot, “24 hours” supplement (Hebrew), 2 Nov. 2009

They earn NIS 2000 per month, are dismissed every nine months, and have few rights: meet the manual laborers of the Israel Antiquities Authority, employed via the personnel agency Brick. “When you take away a man’s livelihood, why not mock him too and trample him underfoot?” The Antiquities Authority: “We don’t have the resources to employ them directly.”


The dismissal notice came as a surprise to Yafa Miara. After nine months of intensive physical labor which earned her praise from the archeologists with whom she worked, she was compelled to leave behind the archeological digs.
Despite the fatigue, the long hours in the sun, and the dust and dirt, Miara (42), a resident of Ashkelon, found great satisfaction in her work: “I knew I was a good, professional digger,” she says. “Archeologists begged to work with me. They knew they could count on me, so why did I suddenly get fired? When they told me I could continue to work via the personnel agency,
I didn’t understand the significance of it. In the south, many people work via such agencies. But when they dismissed me I suddenly understood that this was their way of denying me basic social rights.”

After a cooling-off period of a few months, Miara was called again by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) management. Lacking any other alternative, she returned to work via the personnel agency Brick Enterprises and Development.

The timing of Miara’s dismissal, like that of dozens of others in archeological sites, is not accidental. The Antiquities Authority, a government body under the Ministry of Culture, works systematically to avoid implementing Paragraph 12a of the amendment to the Law on the Employment of Workers by Personnel Contractors which came into force in January 2008. According to the amendment, at the end of nine months’ employment via a personnel agency, the company employing them in practice – in this case the IAA – must take on the workers in a direct employment relationship. The amendment was supposed to limit the ongoing employment of workers via personnel agencies, where they have no pension or other social benefits.

In February 2008, one month after the amendment came into force, the question of the agency workers came up in an internal discussion of the IAA management, in which IAA Director General Shuka Dorfman also took part. But despite the change in the law, nothing changed in the Authority’s employment policy: workers continued to be dismissed after nine months’ work so that they would not have to be granted permanent employee status.

“We have to make sure that the workers are dismissed after nine months so that they don’t get dismissal compensation, like the Authority workers get,” Assistant Director General Shlomo Ashkenazi said during a management meeting on the issue, thereby revealing the Authority’s policy towards temporary workers. “In the coming months we’ll have to dismiss many.” Neither did Dorfman make any attempt to hide the fact that this was the Authority’s policy. It didn’t seem to bother those present at the discussion that the declared policy seemed to go against the law. “It must be understood that we can’t hire these 550 workers,” he said. “The IAA will use temporary workers and have no responsibility for their continued employment. The personnel agency will be responsible for this.”

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