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

5)        Public Transport: Isolated, Insufficient and Expensive

The public transport of EJ is cut off from that in West Jerusalem (hence, WJ). As a result, it is also more expensive, as we will detail below. In addition, the public transport system in EJ severely lacks bus lines. It is only available for limited hours and often finishes early in the afternoon.

The cost of a ticket for a single ride on EJ public transport is NIS 4.70, whereas in West Jerusalem, a separate fare for each ride has long been a thing of the past. The “Rav-Kav” (Multiline), which permits multiple rides on the buses and the light train for NIS 6.70, is not valid on EJ public transport. A worker employed for a full month in West Jerusalem has her public transport travel costs covered by her employer. A woman who lives in an EJ suburb but works in WJ is forced to pay NIS 4.70 twice daily for the EJ portion of her trips, and only in West Jerusalem can she take advantage of the “Rav-Kav.” If she lives in a more peripheral EJ neighbourhood, she has to pay the single-ride fare of NIS 4.70 multiple times a day. This can not only triple her travel costs but also, because of the lack of integration, dramatically increase her travel time. In some EJ areas, public transport does not operate at all, forcing working women to use taxis at their own expense, whether to the job or to a point from which they can use the Israeli public transport system.

The result is great difficulty in getting to the areas of employment in WJ. Sometimes this presents a real obstacle even during the hiring process. At the meeting of the Jerusalem Municipality’s “Committee for the Economic and Employment Development of East Jerusalem” (12 July, 2016), it was stated that a survey covering 10,000 residents from all the quarters of EJ revealed a clear demand for a link to employment areas in the west side of the city.

Jihan Sha’ar (40), married with five children, a resident of Silwan in EJ, was referred by the EB to five job interviews between August and December 2016. Only one was in a location she could reach by bus; another employer did not answer her calls over several days, so she herself took a taxi to his office at a cost of NIS 40, only to find that it was closed. When she finally managed to contact the employer, he told her to come again, and she again paid NIS 40, only to find out that the work was for night shifts only, whereas
Silwan’s public transport ceases at 6:30 p.m. In another interview, the employer told her to be in Mamilla (WJ) in half an hour; however, although the distance is not great, the organization of EJ public transport forced her again to take a taxi at NIS 40 in each direction. For lack of money, she had to postpone another interview until her husband got paid for his previous month’s work.

An important point here is that the public transport system is not sufficiently accessed by EJ residents. For example, many EJ women who turned to us for help in reaching work were not aware of the “Rav-Kav” card, which would reduce travel cost, even if not for the whole journey. In the last three years there has been an information campaign about the “Rav-Kav” and the public transport system. One of the administrators told us in April that the campaign would soon be intensified, and so it was in WJ, but it did not cross the boundary into EJ.

It is also important to note that two of the main stops of the light rail in EJ, Shuafat and A-Sahl, have not been functioning properly since July 2014: they have neither benches nor shelters, nor is it possible to buy tickets at these stops, so the only way to get on the train would be with a “Rav-Kav” card which, as we have seen, is not accessible in EJ.

The Shuafat light rail stop is close to the house of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in July, 2014 by Jewish zealots. In the violence that followed, the facilities at the stop were sabotaged. According to the Israel Tax Authority, over a year ago advance payments were made to the light rail company for repair of the damaged stations, but the case is under continuing negotiation.[19] According to a spokesman for “Rav-Kav”, there are signs at the stops directing people to shops that sell the “Rav-Kav” card.[20] When we went there we found, after some searching, very few signs, none prominently sited. Several had handwritten messages naming a shop, but when we went to it we found that they did not sell or top up the “Rav-Kav.”

WAC’S efforts to help EJ women improve their access to work places proceeds along two axes:

(1) On the spot advice about reaching interview locations.

(2) Training Rights Propagators, recruited from among the jobseekers at the Employment Bureau. We teach these women how to best use public transport and the “Rav-Kav” card. We join them at the Light Rail Citypass Center for a meeting with a service representative and the issuance of a card, so that they will be able to pass on the knowledge to other women.

6)        The Language Barrier

Without mastering Hebrew there is no access to the Israeli employment market, even for positions that don’t require professional qualifications. WAC often encounters women jobseekers who have been referred by the EB to employment agencies as cleaners but who are turned back if they don’t speak Hebrew. As we detailed above, only about half of EJ women have completed 12 years of schooling, and this is one of the consequences.

For example, P.H. was referred by the EB to “Solutions Applied Ltd.” Because she couldn’t speak Hebrew and the interviewer couldn’t speak Arabic, she turned to WAC to bridge the language gap. In a telephone conversation, the company representative made it clear that the positions offered – factory work, or work that includes interacting with members of the public (cashier, steward, sales person) – require the ability to speak and read Hebrew.

WAC helps on a daily basis with translation and mediation with employers, sometimes even with tasks at work. Regretfully, the EB does not provide support in such cases. There are even cases where it categorises the rejection of a job seeker for insufficient Hebrew as a placement refusal on her part, which means a denial of her basic income support for two months.

Rania Julani, whose story we presented previously, and who graduated in accountancy at the Rian Center, also encountered the language barrier. During her course work she did learn Hebrew, but at such a basic level that it was insufficient to pursue her chosen career, even when the EB directed her toward a job that would have suited it.

Insufficient Hebrew also hinders women when they are out and about, making it difficult to reach their workplace. We know of many instances when women took a taxi to a job interview because they had no way of asking how to get there. As we described in the previous section, WAC helps to solve this issue.

At a meeting of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Committee for the Economic and Employment Development of East Jerusalem (12 July, 2016), it was claimed that in recent years the municipality had allocated budgets for Hebrew lessons in EJ schools, and that in 2016, eighteen groups were started in five schools, each receiving 500 hours of Hebrew instruction, to reach a level of exemption from having to learn Hebrew by the 10th grade. In addition, a course for Hebrew teachers was opened at the David Yelin Seminar for Teachers. Soon the third round will finish and, as of now, there are 28 graduates. But, according to the head of Arabic Education at the Jerusalem Education Authority, Mrs Nabila Mana’a, the program is not producing the desired results. “The training of the teachers is not quite clear,” she says. “Some of them already know Hebrew and are qualified as such. They undergo a ‘cultural’ mentoring and support, but they are not professional teachers (of Hebrew).” According to her, one of the obstacles to having good, well-qualified teachers of Hebrew is that these teachers are hired on a temporary basis, through sub-contractors, sometimes on pay that is not above board.

In the drive to overcome the language barrier, WAC has lately been offering Hebrew language classes for women wanting to improve their language skills for integration into the jobs market.

7)        Abusive Employment

Because of their lack of school completion and a graduation certificate, the only employment positions open to the great majority of EJ women are non-professional, mostly in cleaning and care. These areas suffer from subcontracted, abusive employment. After overcoming the obstacles described in the previous sections, EJ women encounter an abusive labor market, which often denies them the chance to become integrated at work.

First, there is religious discrimination. Employers often refuse to accept women with headscarves. This is illegal. Nevertheless, the EB refers many women to hotels where it is openly stated to them that for the job, and even for the interview, they have to uncover their heads. EB clerks sometimes threaten them that if they do not comply, their basic income support will be withdrawn for two months. Despite WAC’s complaints on the matter, the Employment Service continues to direct women to such employers, reprimanding those who refuse to remove their headscarves.

Secondly, underemployment is common. An example is the case of Shada Barakat, a WAC member of 22 who lives in Isawiya with her family. Barakat finished 12 years at school and has a Palestinian ‘Tawjihi” (certificate). She also gained qualification in cosmetics from the Employment Service, and she wants to learn to work with children. In practice, the only jobs to which she has been directed by the EB are either in cleaning or care. “I worked at two jobs in 2016 via the Employment Service,” relates Barakat. “One was for three days, and the longest was for three months in personal care, but that was only three hours a day twice a week. There was so little work and the pay was so low that I kept going to the EB in the hope of finding more work with more hours, but they did not find any. When I asked the employer for a pay slip, he did not fire me but simply stopped sending me to new people who needed care.” About the cleaning job, she relates that she was rejected by the employer, and only when she asked the bureau placement officer to intervene was she accepted. Even then she had to chase after her employer daily to ask her where she would be cleaning, because the location changed daily. After three days she was fired, with no explanation and no letter of termination.

Barakat’s experience of summary dismissal after a short period, with no hearing, no prior notice, and no letter is the kind of thing we encounter too often. Employers change workers often, taking advantage of their precarious situation. The workers have few rights, because labor rights generally accrue from length of employment. These include the right to compensation for dismissal, to sick pay, and to days of annual leave. For employers this is heaven: a worker employed at a fraction of a full-time position for two months will not rush to assert her rights, even though they have not been met, because in such a case rights are minimal, and the cost of an appeal is usually more than the potential amount. WAC helps workers appeal even for small sums by saving them the expense of hiring a lawyer.

The story of Hitam Falah, 39, of Shuafat Refugee Camp, married and a mother of four, illustrates employers’ contempt for Palestinian women. Falah worked as a cleaner through a contracting company, to which she had been directed by the EB. She describes very hard physical work, cleaning many offices and toilets, and using many chemicals. She was subjected to contemptuous treatment through constant disruptions of her eating breaks. The employer acknowledged that she had an excessive workload, but refused to hire another worker. When Hitam became pregnant she again asked for another worker to help her, but she was refused. When she feared that the working conditions were harming the foetus, she asked for a replacement, but the employer delayed. Only when Hitam fell ill was a replacement found, and even then the employer demanded that she come to work despite her illness to teach the substitute worker.

The accounts of Barakat and Falah are not unusual. During 2016 the WAC office supported dozens of women in their effort to integrate into the labor market. Most of the problems arose from the treatment of Palestinian women as easy prey, as objects that can be used and then thrown away without a trace.

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