It’s not nice to spoil the party which so many prominent names have joined. However, Ofer Eini’s call to struggle against the exploitative system of employment via manpower agencies lacks all credibility. If the Histadrut chairperson has looked back on his career so far and come to recognize the evils of this employment framework, he must admit his responsibility for creating it and go home.
During the last couple of decades, Israel has become a paradise for tycoons. They have received gifts and enormous benefits from the state, and amassed unprecedented wealth and power. All of Israel’s governments without exception have adopted neo-liberal capitalism as their guiding star.
Together with this destructive trend, Israel has undergone an employment counter-revolution. Instead of direct employment with peripheral benefits such as sickness compensation, vacation and pension payments, a slew of employment frameworks granting minimal rights have become the norm – contract labor, manpower agencies, third sector employment, freelancing, private subcontracting, personal contracts, “first generation” and “second generation” arrangements, and various others. At the same time, the state permitted the import of hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers under exploitative terms which come close to modern slavery.
The Histadrut had a hand in all this
The system which gave tycoons a super-status at the apex while hundreds of thousands were employed in conditions of exploitation and poverty could not have survived twenty years without the Histadrut’s connivance. When Histadrut Chairperson Ofer Eini calls Israel’s current economic system “cannibalistic capitalism”, he inadvertently points the finger at his own organization and indicts himself. When Eini declares a general labor dispute against the system of employment via manpower agencies, it seems he is fighting against himself.
This indirect employment system enables firms, factories and even the state to avoid concerning themselves about their workers. It began as a trickle in the seventies with the creation of the Histadrut’s manpower agency Mancur (which later became ORS), and soon became a flood. At first it affected Arab workers, migrant laborers, workers of Ethiopian or Russian origin, and the unemployed who were thrown to the Wisconsin program. But it then spread. Industry, hospitals, nursing, schools, social work, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the Israel Antiquities Authority, government ministries, the Israel Postal Company, universities – all were affected. Today, thousands are employed in these places either as “self-employed,” or via service providers, or as freelancers, or via third sector organizations which act as manpower agencies in all but name.
Manpower contractor workers at the IAA
In most of these places there is a Histadrut workers’ committee and collective agreements which enabled these contemptible employment frameworks to flourish on the side. Such arrangements were always accompanied by excuses such as “the best of bad options,” or “to avoid layoffs.” But the bottom line is the acceptance of a system which creates first and second class workers, and sometimes even third or fourth.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is a prime example of the dynamics of exploitation and the Histadrut’s condoning of the system. The IAA is a statutory body, operated by public directive, overseen by and with a budget from the Ministry of Culture and Sport. Furthermore, the IAA had a national cultural mission which was to provide decent employment for hundreds of academics and manual workers alike. However, reality today is very different.