Representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Histadrut and the Social Workers' Union signed a reform this past Thursday that will raise the wages of social workers by up to 20%. Talks around the agreement stalled before Passover, with the social workers' union threatening to strike. 

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“This is an exciting and historic day,” Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David said at the signing. “Social workers work in professional and devoted manner, night and day, for the well-being of Israeli society.”

The reform, which costs about 200 million shekels ($59 million) annually, will apply retroactively starting from July 2021. As part of the reform, social workers’ salaries will be raised throughout their careers in accordance with increased professional experience and vocational training.

“In an impossible reality like the one we experienced in the coronavirus crisis, social workers continue to be the first place to turn for those who need help the most. The reform agreement we have led surely gives these workers an adequate reward for their honorable work, and a pay increases and employment stability for years to come,” said Bar-David.

“This is smart and progressive agreement that deals with the salary levels of the workers, and the level of their education and professional development, among other things," he said. "It’s an agreement that indicates we’re going down a new path. This agreement breaks ground for all the progressive agreements that we will sign in the coming years.”

The reform signed fundamentally changes the wage structure of social workers and allows them to receive wage increases throughout their careers, which had been impossible in the previous structure.

As a result of the reform, the salary of social workers at the start of their career will be about 8,650 shekels ($2,560) per month. Salaries will continue to increase based in keeping with professional experience, training, and taking on management positions.

The new wage model simplifies the previous social work wage structure, eliminating components like the “minimum wage supplement” currently paid to more than 70% of social workers. This simpler model will also incentivize professional development and standardize the wage structure among different employers.

Negotiations for the agreement took about two years, following the social workers’ strike in the summer of 2020. The agreement will initially apply to the 10,000 or so social workers currently employed in the public sector. An expansion order will extend the reform to apply to about 6,000 additional social workers in nonprofits and in the private sector. An upcoming phase is expected to apply the reform to the remaining social workers who are not provided for in the initial phases.

Inbal Hermoni, chairwoman of the Social Workers' Union, speaks at a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Finance (Photo: Tal Carmon)

“Two years ago, we marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and after that we had to strike about two and a half weeks in order to achieve this reform,” said Chairwoman of the Social Worker' Union Inbal Hermoni.

“Today is dedicated to each of the nearly 17,000 social workers currently working in the State of Israel,” she continued. “We reached this agreement thanks to every one of the thousands of employees who believed, and still believe, that despite all the difficulties they can do what sometimes seems unbelievable.” 

Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed his support for the reform: “Social workers in Israel know today that there are people out there who care for them. The hard work that social workers perform should come along with fair compensations that reflects their extraordinary effort in complex conditions. Today, we have let social workers know about the comprehensive reform that will significantly improve their wages and their opportunities for promotion, thereby correcting a decades-long injustice. We will continue to work towards developing the success of social workers and towards improving this significant service provided to the Israeli public.”

Minister of Social Affairs and Social Services Meir Cohen commented on the importance of the reform.

“There is no area of life today in which social workers are not present. When you get divorced, in schools, in hospitals, everywhere. We need to put this great team at the forefront, their rights and their privileges, and I think that's my job in government,” he said.

Cohen added that a whole chapter of the welfare law that the ministry intends to pass will deal, among other things, with determination standards for the employment of social workers.

“There’s no reason why in schools, there is a clear number of teachers, but for social workers there is no number, and why one social worker in a peripheral city should be responsible for 200 people.”

“The agreement represents a significant milestone in promoting modem wage agreements in the public sector,” said Kobi Bar-Nathan, Director of Salary and Employment Agreements at the Treasury. “As part of the agreement, many principles we’ve been promoting recently have been implemented, all in order to improve social services in the State of Israel and to enable better pay and better opportunities for promotion that will attract additional workers to the profession, will retain existing employees, and will improve the service provided to the public.”

The Chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities Haim Bibas also expressed his support.

“Social workers work night and day to care for underprivileged populations in our society,” he said. “We appreciate and cherish their work. We will continue to work towards the professional development of the employees of the local authorities and to improve the conditions of their employment.”

This article was translated from Hebrew by Leah Schwartz.