March 8, 2019 – On International Women’s Day Kav LaOved brings forward disturbing information about female migrant workers in Israel, gathered through polls and fieldwork conducted among Palestinian, Thai and migrant caregivers. While the media celebrates the progress women have made – the situation for migrant working women is still dire.
The picture that is reflected is a disturbing one: female migrant workers suffer from sexual harassment and assaults. While for many their personal space is often intruded, female caregivers are also robbed of their right to privacy. Thai women working in the agriculture sector often share living spaces and bathrooms with the men they work with Often these women are required to work without being payed, in additional jobs, other than those they arrived for: housecleaning, caring for children, etc. Palestinian women are employed as as if labor laws do not exist in Israel. They do not receive minimum wage, vacation days, recuperation and other benefits they are entitled to.
Kav LaOved demands from the various responsible authorities to fill their role and protect these women who are employed in some of the hardest jobs in the labor market. Caregivers who take care of our loved ones and thereby enable or Palestinian and Thai women working in the fields that sustain us. The authorities must enforce the existing laws, and put in place mechanisms that will ensure proper investigations and assistance to victims, in order to guarantee these women’s physical and emotional protection, as well as their ability to enjoy their labor rights.
A troubling phenomenon – female caregivers are harassed by employers
Seven months after M. had begun to work as a caregiver, her employer offered her money, to “be like his wife”. “I refused, his intention was clearly sexual”, M. said in an affidavit she gave Kav LaOved. But her refusal didn’t help. “As a part of my job, I had to bath him. I would help him to clean himself, apart from his genitals which I asked him to clean. One time, he asked me to touch his genitals and masturbate for him.” When she declined, he started masturbating in front of her. “I couldn’t exit the bathroom and leave him alone. This is my responsibility.” This horrifying story is just one of many that reaches Kav Laoved every month about sexual harassment and coercion caregivers suffer at their workplace – which is also their home.
In Israel there are 42,994 migrant caregivers. Kav LaOved assists every year thousands of workers, who arrive in our offices, most of them in order to receive money owed to them by their employers. For many exposing sexual violence they endured is much harder. During the past year alone numerous of workers reported to have suffered from sexual harassments or assaults. A focused qualitative poll we conducted among 46 caregiving workers concluded that 23% of the workers were not entitled to privacy in their own homes, which is essentially also their place of work.
Unfortunately most of the workers prefered not to expose cases of sexual harassment or assault, nor to complain or act on the matter. The reason is quite simple: every time they change employers their visa may be taken from them, leaving them without a place to stay, and with a considerable debt due to brokerage fees. Their fear of losing their homes and income, and the mechanisms that bind them to their have become a silencing method of one of the most severe phenomena in the Israeli society.
K. is a 37-year-old worker who works in a Moshav (agriculture settlement), where she is the only one female worker among 11 male workers. She experienced verbal abuse and unwanted physical contact from some male workers when they got drunk. She could not lock her bedroom, so she bought a lock system, which she ended up installing. Furthermore she has to share toilets and shower rooms with her male co-workers. She feels unsafe. When male workers ask to borrow money from her, she feels forced to lend them, fearing that they would threaten her safety otherwise.
In Israel 672 Thai women work in agriculture, alongside to 21,417 Thai men. Agriculture workers suffer degrading living conditions, medical negligence, and receive salaries below the minimum wage, without vacation days or overtime pay. On the backdrop of these harsh conditions – women are even more vulnerable.
A poll Kav LaOved conducted among 80 female workers exposes that: 37.7% of the female workers live in the same building as men; 9.7% of them live in the same room as men, 57.1% of them with over 3 men. 59.7% of the women have to use the same restrooms as men and 62.5% share showers with them. 13.9% of the women feel unsafe in their own rooms, 18.1% feel unsafe in the bathroom area. 59.7% of the women have to work in additional jobs, mostly housecleaning.
A., 36 years old Palestinian woman working in agriculture has to leave her home every day at 4:30 AM, to work on a farm near Beit She’an, Israel. It takes her an hour and a half to cross the checkpoint and reach work. She works six days a week, ten hours a day – for which she receives 120 NIS daily, in cash, without a pay slip or social benefits. Yes, 12 shekels (around 3.5 USD) an hour. Her family’s livelihood rests on her shoulders, her husband is banned from entering Israel for work. When she turned to her employer in order to receive her legally-due wage, he threatened to fire her and the seven Palestinian women who work alongside her – thus canceling their work permits. She had to give up.
As part of a training we organized for Palestinian women on labor rights, the trainees conducted a poll among Palestinian women who work in Israel. Those women enter Israel every day, to put bread on their families’ table, and many times have to rely on men, to whom they pay a considerable percentage of their salaries, in order to find a job and access their place of work. . 100 women answered our survey, and some of the major findings are: 92.8% work in agriculture, 73.5% do not receive pay slips, 86% do not receive vacation days and 70% do not receive reimbursement for their travel costs. 88.6% do not receive recuperation, 85% are paid in cash and 84% receive less than 170 NIS a day.
Kav LaOved – Workers Hotline is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to the defense of workers’ rights and the enforcement of Israeli labor law designed to protect every worker in Israel, irrespective of nationality, religion, gender, and legal status. www.kavlaoved.org.il