Instead of importing labor, hire Arab women

Despite high unemployment in Israel in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the National Economic Council rushed to promote a proposal to enable 4,000 migrant laborers to enter the country […]

Despite high unemployment in Israel in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the National Economic Council rushed to promote a proposal to enable 4,000 migrant laborers to enter the country to work in care homes

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the appalling situation of the aged in Israel. Care homes warn they will not be able to withstand a second wave of the virus, and demand additional staff immediately. This demand is fair, given the circumstances, but who will work in these care homes? Unemployment due to the pandemic has hit Arab women particularly hard, and some 80,000 have found themselves without work. This suggests a practical solution to the care homes’ staffing problems.

However, flying in the face of reason, the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office rushed to promote a proposal allowing some 4,000 migrant laborers to enter Israel to work in the care homes (Meirav Arlosoroff, TheMarker June 26). This is not the first time the issue has been discussed. In March 2017, the Knesset discussed a proposal to enable migrant laborers to work in care homes, on the basis of the claim that Israeli workers were not willing to do so. A representative of WAC-MAAN, which directs a project assisting non-professional Arab women to find jobs, opposed the proposal. She claimed that improving employment terms and wages, and offering suitable training, would attract thousands of Arab women to work in the care sector.

Following this Knesset discussion, WAC-MAAN in collaboration with the Geriatrics Division of the Health Ministry developed a unique pilot project, which trained Arab women from the Umm al-Fahm region to work with the aged. During the project, the Academic School of Nursing in Hillel Yaffe Hospital held three courses, which trained 79 women as caregivers. Most of them were offered employment appropriate to their training, and today – three years later – 30 of them are still working despite the high turnover rate in this sector. Even today, WAC-MAAN continues to receive requests from women interested in training and employment.

However, the Health Ministry did not continue with the project, which came to an end in 2018 after those three courses. If the Ministry had continued, it could have had thousands of trained caregivers to meet the shortage of care home staff, while also increasing the participation rates of Arab women in the labor market. The reason the project was stopped is simple: the budget required was not a top priority.

During the project, the Health Ministry covered the training, and in the first course it also covered some of the participants’ travel expenses. However, in the subsequent courses participants had to fund their own travel, and some were not always able to attend. The lack of good public transport from the Arab towns to the coastal region is a major obstacle to employment for Arab women in the periphery, especially for evening and night shifts. This issue requires investment in infrastructure. In addition, the Health Ministry did not fund WAC-MAAN role: advertisement and recruitment, accompanying and assisting participants during the course, finding them employment and helping them into their jobs afterwards.

A sign of a positive change of direction came a month ago, when the government approved a “road map” for the geriatric care sector, led by the Department of Governance and Social Affairs of the Prime Minister’s Office, initiated by the Health Ministry’s Geriatrics Division, and with the participation of the National Insurance Institute. They decided that in light of the shortage of caregivers, high turnover rates, low wages, and lack of promotion opportunities, they should take steps to improve training and promotion routs in the sector.

WAC-MAAN’s experience with the project suggests that there is potential to solve both the crisis in care homes and the increasing poverty among Arab women, with judicious investment. It is also in keeping with the “road map”, which emphasizes investment in human capital. This approach is completely contrary to the National Economic Council’s proposal to enable the employment of migrant laborers in an attempt to reduce costs, which would oblige the National Insurance Institute to support unemployed Arab women throughout their lives.

The choice is stark: support for capitalists and labor agencies at the expense of the aged, or the establishment of a training program that will support the aged and integrate Arab women in the labor market, lifting them out of poverty.

* The writer is the director of WAC-Maan’s Women and Work project

Translation: Yonatan Preminger

אודות Michal Schwarz