70 domestic workers employed in private homes throughout Afula, a city in northern Israel, gathered on Tuesday for a celebratory evening in Afula’s Histadrut offices.
“These women are workers who come to [the Histadrut building] every year in order to calculate how many vacation days and sick days they’re entitled to. They go to their employers with these forms in hand,” Zeev Lieberman, chairman of the Histadrut’s Amakim division, which serves 125 communities across northern Israel, told Davar.
“We embrace them and treat them as our own, and we really see them as part of our responsibilities. We planned a fun evening for them after the work day with a celebratory meal. We gave out gifts and toasted to their decision to come to us and to the fact that we are their trade union,” Lieberman said. Along with the meal and the gifts, the workers also enjoyed a drum circle and lecture on numerology by numerologist Tamir Nahum.
The event was put on by Kinneret Nachman Shalev, deputy chairman of the Histadrut Amakim division and coordinator of the trade union. Deputy Mayor of Afula Shlomo Malichi also attended, as did Pichi Dubiner, a Histadrut representative responsible for household workers.
“The challenge was in bringing all the workers to the ceremony,” Nachman-Shalev said. “Each of them works in a different workplace. There’s no common employer and no workers’ committee. It’s not like an event for the employees of a local union where everyone knows each other. The event was also an opportunity for them to get to know each other, to bond, to build a community, which is a very, very important thing.”
“At first I didn’t know the Histadrut, but when I was working my employers told me that I was entitled to annual payments [for pension, vacation pay, etc.], and suggested I contact the Histadrut and get help with the calculation,” domestic worker Yaffa Eliyahu (61) said. Eliyahu, who is from Moshav Avital, a community just south of Afula, has been a domestic worker for 24 years. “I have been coming to the the Histadrut office in Afula every year for over 20 years, and they sit with me to calculate seniority and working hours,” she said.
For Eliyahu, Tuesday’s event was important and uplifting: “It's very special and exciting. It gives you the feeling that domestic work is a respectable thing, and that you have somewhere to turn to. A place that cares about you and appreciates you. It can’t be taken for granted, especially to those who do manual labor. Events like these really give you room to breathe. You don’t feel the difficulties at work so strongly when you know someone is taking care of you.”
She expressed her gratitude for the Histadrut staff not only for the event, but also for their warm smiles and dedicated care throughout the year. “It really feels like I have somewhere to come home to,” Eliyahu said.
Lieberman said that the Amakim division organized a trip to Jerusalem for the domestic workers a year and a half ago. “Some of the workers actually had tears in their eyes at the end of the evening because they said they’re hardly able to go on trips like these. One of them even told us that she had never been to Jerusalem before. These are really invisible workers, which is why we are so happy we can provide them with answers, services, and recognition of the work that they do,” Lieberman said.