Harassment, Contempt and Degrading Physical Conditions in the Employment Bureau of East Jerusalem

<p>The following report was issued on July 17, 2012 to the Employment Bureau (EB) director, Mr. Boaz Hirsh, regarding the East Jerusalem Employment Service offices. This report was compiled by Erez Wagner, Dima Darawshe and attorney Aya Bartenstein and relates to the severely degrading conditions of the EB in East Jerusalem. See also - Haaretz on WAC's report.</p>

The following report was issued on July 17, 2012 to the Employment Bureau (EB) director, Mr. Boaz Hirsh, regarding the East Jerusalem Employment Service offices. This report was compiled by Erez Wagner, Dima Darawshe and attorney Aya Bartenstein and relates to the severely degrading conditions of the EB in East Jerusalem.

WAC’s offices in East Jerusalem go back 12 years, and have offered services to the workers and jobless residents of East Jerusalem. In the year 2000, a few months before the break of the second Intifada Palestinian residents complained to WAC about the humiliation and enormous hardships they encountered, in realizing their rights to a fair work place, or to an allowance to which they are entitled by law.

Since July 2000 when WAC first opened the office in East Jerusalem, thousands of cases have been handled. WAC staff assists Palestinian residents with filling out forms, in writing formal complaints, with representation by WAC lawyers before government authorities and the courts, and in organizing workers, by way of elected committees, and by reaching collective agreements.

East Jerusalem suffers from severe economic and social problems; in fact 85% of the women and 40% of the men are unemployed. Out of the 360,882 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, 78% live below the poverty line, out of which 84% are children. Considering these statistics, it is the role of the employment service to be a central agent for assisting Palestinian residents in attaining fair employment conditions and in being spared from harsh conditions of poverty and unemployment.

This report reveals severe inadequacies in the functioning of the Employment Service on two levels: the physical conditions in the reception area on the one hand, and the systematic violation of services practices in the East Jerusalem branch.

It is our expectation that in response to this harsh report, the employment service will conduct an inquiry and that as a result, significant changes will be made. WAC will actively monitor and report to the employment services director, in accordance with the observations made.

1. The employment service’s general physical conditions: WAC staff and activists make frequent visits to the employment service’s offices. By and large, WAC staff meets and advises claimants outside of the office’s premises. During these visits, we often encounter the harsh conditions that our clients face, many of which are related to the conditions in the reception area, and can easily be improved as follows:

-Two lines at the entrance to the employment service: the employment service building in Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem also houses the Ministry of Interior. Therefore the line which accumulates at the entrance to the building is exceptionally long and crowded. There are in effect two lines at the entrance to the building: the external line which starts outside of the building and narrows into iron revolving doors, while the second part of the line is in an enclosed corridor which leads to the security check point. Those waiting outside of the iron revolving doors are exposed to the hot sun in the summer and to the rain in the winter, often for hours at a time. Upon several occasions the employment services announced that the reception will be closed due to overstrain, which necessitated returning the next day, often after having waited for long hours in line.

-The location of the registration device is within the offices of the employment services, making it unnecessarily difficult for job seekers. Following the wait on line for the joint security check for job seekers and the public accosting the Ministry of Interior, job seekers are required to wait on an additional line at the entrance to the reception hall of the employment service. In our opinion this line is completely unnecessary, as other branches of the employment service have spared job seekers this line in light of the automatic registration devices. Although the automatic registration device exists in the East Jerusalem branch, a misjudgment led to positioning the devices inside the offices where job seekers are able to approach them only after waiting in two lines. It should be emphasized that positioning the registration machines in a more accessible location would relieve most of the job seekers, and the employment service staff from many hardships.

– Unnecessary separation between men and women creates additional strain:[/u] Women and men are separated in the entrance corridor, between the iron revolving door and the security check point, such that the hall is divided into two separate lines. This separation is uncalled for, as there are separate reception days for men and for women. [b]As a result of this unnecessary separation, job seekers wait outside, and are subjected to bad weather conditions, while an entire hall area is basically empty.

– Water fountain: Although hundreds of applicants visit the employment center daily, the service has not installed an adequate water cooler. There is only one drinking water facility with cold water, and it is usually not functioning.

– Lack of seating arrangements in the waiting room: the waiting room in the employment services is not large enough and doesn’t contain enough seating places. As a result the applicants are forced to wait on an additional third line which forms at the entrance to the reception hall due to lack of seating space.

– Humiliating treatment by Security Guards: we have observed, during our frequent visits to the employment service, disrespectful and degrading treatment of the job seekers on the part of the security guards. Instead of being helpful to the applicants who are coping with impossible physical conditions, the security guards yell and put the job seekers down without cause.

2. The second issue: systematic breach of the employment service procedures:

The second facet of the violations of job seekers’ basic rights in East Jerusalem is manifested in the systematic and severe breach of the employment service’s procedures implying that these procedures are not binding with regard to the East Jerusalem offices.

It should be mentioned that job seekers listed as job refusers are highly penalized, as they are automatically denied their right for a basic allowance (unemployment or supplementary income benefits), and this sanction lasts for months. Due to the fact that job seekers are among the very poorest, the denial of their allowance is a fatal blow to their viability. The law stipulates very stringent procedures for denying basic allowances, whose purpose is to ascertain that the registration of a job seeker as a job refuser has been carefully considered, according to proper rules of justice, thus out ruling the possibility of the clerks’ abuse of power. The following is a list of violations we have encountered:

3. The violation of the requirement to provide the job seeker with a denial form:

While representing job seekers entitled to unemployment or supplementary income benefits, we have encountered again and again the refusal of the employment service officials, to provide those labeled as job refusers, with a form or confirmation of their refusal status. This form is supposed to justify the basis for the refusal status, without which the job seeker cannot appeal his or her classification in court.

The East Jerusalem employment service’s refusal to provide job seekers with this essential form has been criticized sharply in the Jerusalem Labor Court by Justice Deputy President Eyal Abrahami. The court ruled that the issue should be scrutinized by the relevant officials in order to remedy the defects in conduct. Justice Abrahami added to his ruling, that a copy of his decision be delivered to the director and legal advisor of the employment services, “to ensure that necessary measures are taken to remedy this phenomenon”.

Unfortunately this ruling, so far, has had no impact on the employment services conduct. In fact, even in the appeal committees, the directors of the employment services, Mr. Moshe Becker, and the coordinator of the appeals committees, Mr. Jacob Benishvilli, have stated that there are “no procedures which relate to registrations of refusal, and certainly none which require providing a confirmation of the refusal status to the job seeker”.

In response to WAC’s claims that without a form which states the reasons which constitute the refusal status, it is impossible to write an appeal statement, Mr. Benishvilli stated that he is unwilling to provide such a form. Benishvilli claims that there is no such order from the legal advisor of the service to provide confirmation of the job seekers status. Only moments earlier, in the presence of a WAC representative, the chairman of the appeals committee, gave implicit instructions that such a confirmation is to be granted to job seekers classified as job refusers.

1. The failure to Justify classification of job seekers as job refusers:

Even in the rare cases that WAC did receive a confirmation of the status of job refuser the form was careless and lacked details. According to the procedures, the service official who registered a job seeker as a refuser, is required to justify his reasons on the form. The forms WAC has encountered have been short and general, with insufficient explanations, often containing contradictory claims and incoherent reasons for granting the refusal status.

2. Preventing and Delaying Job seekers from Issuing Appeals

WAC has had repetitive encounters with job seekers who experienced difficulties in the appeal process. Instead of the employment service setting clear and simple regulations for issuing appeal forms, job seekers run into obstacles and improper conduct, whose purpose is to deter them from appealing. For example:

H. A job seeker, was forced to issue his appeal on the decision to classify him as a job refuser three times. The employment service director was willing to accept the appeal only following WAC’s intervention.

In another case, K. reported to the employment service on July 13, 2011 in order to issue an appeal on his classification as a job refuser. He waited for two hours in order to meet Mr. Becker, however to his astonishment, Mr. Becker refused to accept his appeal. When he handed his appeal to Mr. Becker, the later threw it on the floor, yelled and kicked K. out of his office. Mr. Becker agreed to accept K’s appeal only following WAC’s intervention in a letter from August 2, 2011 addressed to the employment service’s legal advisor.

3. Irregularities in the Appeals Committee’s Conduct

-Bullying behavior on the part of the employment service’s staff: WAC has handled many complaints about the behavior of the employment service staff. While representing appellants we have been witness to intolerable behavior on the part of the managers of the service; Mr. Becker and Mr. Beneshvilli. Their intimidating and humiliating behavior towards appellants is inexcusable and an end must be put to it. Here are some examples:

-In the middle of K’s appeal on February 28, 2012, Mr. Becker and Mr. Beneshvilli rudely and repeatedly barged in while WAC’s representative spoke on behalf of the appellant, interfering until the session was adjourned by the chair of the committee, and the directors of the service were asked to leave the room.

-The above behavior, displayed by the employment service management, was reiterated, during the appeal of a job seeker, A. on the same date (February 28, 2012). This session was disturbed over and over by the directors’ yelling, shouting, cursing, and intimidation including the obstruction of issuing relevant material despite the fact that the appellant served the relevant documents in advance.

4.The Chair of Appeal Committee’s malfunction

In light of the difficulties and obstacles which job seekers face in the East Jerusalem offices, it was anticipated that the appeals committee, whose decisions are equivalent to those of a court of law, would be neutral. It was also assumed that job seekers, who feel that they have been wronged, would have the opportunity to present their cases before those who rule on the issue of revoking their allowances for long periods of time.

In practice we have been witness to severe misconduct including: unreasonable delay in granting decisions, inobservance of procedures, ignorance regarding the procedures, and the chair of appeal committee’s ultra-virus actions, which all render the committee to be a rubber stamp of the employment committee’s officials. Often the employment service officials take action to attain evidence in order to justify their stand, even in cases when it is impossible to do so. See the following examples:

-Delays in decisions on appeals: According to the procedures which apply to the appeal committees in the employment services, decisions must be handed down within 10 days of the hearing. However, in two instances at least- job seekers waited for a period of 3 months for the decision in their appeal.

-The employment service directors’ disregard and ignorance of procedures: During the hearing of K’s appeal on November 14, 2011, the appeal committee chairman, an attorney, declared that he is not aware of the procedure which requires documenting the refusal status. The chair even suggested to the appellant to reissue his appeal and to state the sections of the employment service procedures which have been violated, as the committee is not familiar with these stipulations.

-Summoning the appellant to the committee while ignoring the fact that he/she is represented: In a session held on June 19, 2012, it became clear to a WAC representative that the appeal committee chair, summoned the appellant to the hearing without notifying his representative, WAC, who was present at two previous hearings, despite a long correspondence between the chair and WAC on this matter.

-The Committee Chairman: Ultra virus conduct: In the case of A. the employment services were not able to come up with a coherent explanation for the classification of the appellant as job refuser. We were surprised to discover that the chair of the appeal committee chose to solve this contradiction by carrying out a conversation with the employer during which he took his testimony without the knowledge of the appellant and in his absence. Even more disturbing is the fact that the committee chair decided to base his decision on the evidence collected a year after the job interview, in violation of the procedures which require contacting the employer in here and now. What is even more astonishing is the fact that the employer’s claim, on which the chair based his decision, is not consistent with that of the employment service, as presented during the two sessions which took place on the issue of the appellants’ classification as a job refuser. This conduct of the committee chair is peculiar as it resembles that of a “judge/investigator”, which constitutes ultra –virus demeanor and exemplifies a conflict of interests as in the earlier described case of Abed el Nebi.

For more details and information on WAC’s work in East Jerusalem please

contact Roni Ben Efrat, at:

roni@hanitzoz.org.il

 

אודות Wac-Maan