In a fresh bid to raise state pensions, Arnon Bar David, head of the Histadrut, Israel's largest labor union, reaffirmed his commitment to push for a raise this year. In a speech held at a union pensioners' conference, Bar David said that "the top priority for 2020 is increasing state pensions," and added that "Israeli labor unions will always be on the side of our pensioners, and will always be their home."

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Histadrut CEO Arnon Bar David. Photograph: Histadrut

The conference was held last week in Tel Aviv amid an escalating crisis of old-age pensioners’ poverty. Low state pension rates, coupled with relatively low private pension levels have contributed to a reality wherein almost 22 percent of households provided for by pensioners are now classified as poor.

"The most crucial thing this year is raising state pensions. I am fully committed to this, even if it means higher social security contributions from workers," said Bar David. "In the coming years, pensioners’ welfare will become one of the most urgent political topics in Israel. We will do everything we can to deal with the problem of low state pensions. I've designated 2020 as the year of the pensioner, and I call on both the government and employers to come to the table and negotiate a tripartite agreement to raise pensions and pensioners’ welfare."

Expanding on the tripartite agreement, Bar David said that he wanted "employers to contribute more towards pensions. The Histadrut will contribute its share, and so will the government." According to him the aim is a "raise of a few hundred shekels this year."

Elderly people in a park. (Photograph: Daniel Shitrit / Flash90, Archived)

Bar David also spoke of the Histadrut's commitment to operate pensioner's clubs, and invited his listeners to join them.

State pensions in Israel are some of the lowest among OECD member states. In Israel, state pensions amount to only 28 percent of the average wage, as opposed to an average of 49 percent among OECD members. Since Israel only adopted mandatory pension payments in 2008, many pensioners today have not contributed to a pension fund over the years, and now depend entirely on state pensions. This may account for the high levels of poverty among pensioners – in 2018, one in five Israeli pensioners was living in poverty.

Pensioners’ demonstration outside government complex in Tel Aviv protesting cuts to old-age pension funds, May 21, 2019 (Photograph: Jonathan Kershenbaum)

Following the Government's decision to cut some pension rates by 1.2 percent last year, the Histadrut announced its intentions to demand a raise in state pensions, together with a raise in pension contributions on the side of employers. The Histadrut has declared a "state of emergency" in regard to pensioners, and has threatened to take industrial action unless all sides agree to begin negotiations.

Bar David concluded on a personal note, saying: "My father retired from Tel Aviv municipality, where he had worked for many years. He started at the bottom and worked his way up to the top. When he retired I offered him to join the Histadrut's pensioner's union. He took my offer up and was quite active for many years."