Report – Condemned to Unemployment: East Jerusalem Women Struggle for Integration into the Labor Market

Chapter 2:  The Labor Market for EJ Women

Note: The Central Bureau of Statistics survey of women’s participation in the labor market distinguishes between two groups: (1) all who took part in the workforce, no matter how little, at any time during the year of the survey; and (2) women who were “actively employed,” meaning those who were in fact working at the time of the survey.

In 2014, if we consider EJ women aged 15+, 13,040 were registered as being in the workforce, of whom 11,130 (85%) were actively employed. [8] Such a percentage is anomalous when compared, for the same year, to Jerusalem’s Jewish women, 62% of whom were in the workforce (94% actively employed). As for the 15% of EJ women who are in the workforce but not actively employed, who are they? From our experience, they are under-employed, moving from one abusive job to another without freeing themselves from the need for Israel’s meagre welfare payments.

Out of a total of 11,130 EJ women actively employed in 2014, 18% were in lines of work for which no category was found (examples of official categories are health, personal care, and education).[9] This may be explained by lack of information or by irregular/temporary employment, usually through a contractor. The figure stands in stark contrast to employed Jewish women, all of whom are in recognised categories.

Closer analysis of occupational categories for EJ women enables us to categorise 93.6% of the workers for 2014: 43.8% were in an academic profession, 13.2% in an engineering or technical profession, 6.4% in office work, 20.2% in sales and services, and 10% in non-professional occupations.[10]

Indeed, most non-professional women do not work. Some 44% of EJ women between ages 25 and 64 did not complete 12 years of schooling, and only 2% of them are employed. These women, left out by the economy until now, could form the “engine” that would rescue themselves and their families, provided that the government act as a facilitator instead of a hindrance.

Invisible Workers in an Invisible Labor Market

On a daily basis, WAC encounters cases of abusive employment that is both systematic and institutionalised. So, for example, in the educational sector—the main one in which EJ women are employed (as school and kindergarten teachers and assistants) we find blatant violation of the law. This occurs across the board: (1) in public institutions; (2) in private establishments; and (3) in educational establishments that are not owned by the state but are recognized by it (they teach 75% of the state-required curriculum and are 75% funded by the state).[11] In order to present the authorities with a picture of legality, the employers pay the minimum wage, but force them to give back half of it in cash; in effect, therefore, the women are employed at half the minimum wage. We also encounter an alternative method, in which “employer’s expenses” are deducted from the wage slip. Any complaint about such methods is met with the threat of dismissal. Since work in education is considered the most desirable sector for EJ Palestinian women, they are afraid to complain and lose their positions. We should note that the cash-return abuse is also experienced by EJ men, as well as by Israeli-Arab women in the private sector.[12]

In the sector of personal care, the pay in EJ is set at the minimum wage, as in the rest of the country. However, there is severe underemployment. WAC has encountered many women who are employed for less than 10 hours weekly, not by their choice, and who thus draw a very low salary. Care workers are usually employed through sub-contracting employers and often suffer from invalid wage slips (more on this later).

The unregulated and arbitrary nature of the labor market is also indicated by the fact, mentioned earlier, that 18% of employed EJ women are uncategorised with respect to economic sector. They are invisible workers in an invisible market.

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